Trust and Will litigation tears families apart.  It may be that family relationships aren’t too good to begin with if litigation arises, but taking matters to Court doesn’t help.  And as lawyers we have little to no ability to repair family relationships.

In one case, out of the many hundreds I have handled over my career, a client of mine chose to make a bold statement after a family dispute arose.

Her name is Sofia.  Sofia—who didn’t have a lot of money—worked as a registered nurse.  While her mother was alive, Sofia helped her with her care.  While Sofia’s father was alive, Sofia sold her home and gave the proceeds of the sale to her parents because they were in need of money at that time.  Her parents, in turn, put Sofia on the deed to their home so that she could be repaid after their deaths.  Over 15 years later, both parents passed away and the house passed to Sofia.

Sofia’s brothers and sisters were not too happy about the arrangement and a nasty dispute arose over the property.  But in the end Sofia won out because she had given a large sum to her parents and in return, they gave her their home when they were done with it.

The whole ugly affair did not sit well with Sofia.  So she decided to make a bold statement with the house she received from her parents, she gave the entire thing-100%-to charity.  This was a substantial gift for anyone, as it was for Sofia.  The house was worth around $350,000 and had no mortgage.  That is a large amount of money for a single working woman, something to tuck away for retirement and future care. 

Instead, Sofia gifted the entire home to the Ronald McDonald House charities, which provides housing free of charge to parents who have very sick children in the hospital.  Ronald McDonald House was planning on building a new home in Long Beach, California, and Sofia’s gift kicked-off their fund raising for the new Ronald McDonald house with an entirely unexpected gift.  The home was sold by the charity and now is being used for their charitable purpose.

Sofia’s one requirement in making the gift was that it be dedicated to the memory of her parents, David and Teodora Pacheco, and their grandchildren, because they loved their many grandchildren unconditionally.  The kitchen of the new Ronald McDonald house charity will be dedicated to Sofia’s parents, primarily because her mother loved cooking and it was a central part of any family gathering.  A plaque will read “David and Teodora Pacheco Kitchen in honor of their grandchildren.”

Sofia had no obligation to make this gift.  The house was hers and she should have used it to provide for her retirement.  But for the first time in my 11 year career as a California Trust lawyer, Sofia demonstrated the power of personal sacrifice.  She did not have money to spare and could not afford such a generous gift, but she made the gift anyway.  It was important to her to turn a family dispute, one that she alone could not repair, into a lasting tribute to her parents.