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Philanthropist leaves surprising fortune to various organizations

When a person passes away, loved ones and family members may be surprised at how intricate and complex the legal process can be when it comes to executing the terms of an estate plan. In general, a will needs to be probated before it can be enforced as a legal document. Many people in Boston are caught off guard by the process of estate administration and probate, but it is an important part of executing the terms of a person's estate plan.

This may be especially true if a person has substantial wealth or assets which must be distributed. If a will is contested, the probate process can be drawn out. However, when assets in a person's estate are finally distributed, many people can end up pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

For example, a social service organization and arts programs recently learned that a wealthy philanthropist, who was relatively unknown and kept a low profile despite vast amounts of wealth, left millions of dollars to the various groups. The man was 100 years old when he passed away.

One organization learned that the man had left roughly 60 percent of his wealth, or $28 million, to them and representatives for the group say they were shocked. The group works to help teenage mothers, low-income seniors and disadvantaged kids gain valuable experiences and resources. However, the man reportedly had no interest in children and did not have a family of his own, so the generous gift was certainly unexpected.

The man also reportedly left $15 million to a symphony orchestra and a national opera institution. He had been a fan of these performances for years and although he was quite modest, he was also recognized as a regular patron and donor since the inception of the groups.

No matter what kind of challenges may come up during the administration and probate process, it is important to remember that a person may have had very specific, if unexpected, wishes in regards to his or her estate. Making sure that the assets in an estate are properly inventoried, appraised and distributed is essential, particularly when a person's estate is significant or complex. In the end, the legal process of estate administration may certainly surprise some people. However, a person's generosity may also come as a surprise.

Source: The Washington Post, "Philanthropist Richard A. Herman leaves fortune to D.C. charity, symphony, opera," Annie Gowen, Feb. 5, 2013

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