By Nathan Vinson, Attorney
English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP
In fundraising and higher education circles, the imminent closure of Sweet Briar College in rural Central Virginia has been much-discussed. This small, women-only college has existed for nearly a century and has educated generations of women. But enrollment has declined and school’s board of trustees announced that this year’s graduating class in May will be its last.
One alumnae, Teresa Tomlinson, the mayor of Columbus, Georgia, noted that she had told college officials she was going to leave $1 million to Sweet Briar in her estate, and they greeted her news graciously and pleasantly, full of thank you’s and personal notes — and then announced two weeks later the school was closing. The mayor said she was baffled why school officials didn’t disclose this to her when she told them about the gift.
Even if the school changes course again and decides to remain open, those who were going to leave money to the college are probably going to be reluctant to do so again. But what would happen if Sweet Briar College was to receive a gift but then the college closed and the will could not be changed?
This happens from time to time with colleges, non-profits and other organizations that are likely to receive bequests from alumni and supporters. The foundation you wanted to support could have merged, changed its goals, re-branded as something else entirely or simply shut its doors. Then what?