April 15, 2010

Mysterious estate gifts frequent

Knox is the largest beneficiary of the estate of the late Charles Maurer. According to Mr. Maurer’s will, the college is to receive 75 percent of the estate, which will amount to over $2 million.

While donations from living alumni are often the major focus of college news releases, estate gifts make up a substantial chunk of monetary gifts to Knox.

“[Estate gifts] happen more often than you’d think,” said Bob King, Knox’s senior gift planner. “We don’t often get calls from living people [about large gifts].”

Aside from its size, the Maurer gift is especially interesting because Mr. Maurer only attended Knox for his freshman year before transferring. He never responded to college requests for address and contact information and he never contributed money during his lifetime.

“We knew nothing about him,” explained King.

During his time at Knox, Mr. Maurer was a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon. He was a veteran of WWII and belonged to a local chess club in St. Louis as an adult. Where he went after Knox and what he did for a living remain a mystery.

Mr. Maurer’s estate gift was designated in his will for scholarships. King said it is common for estate gifts to be set aside for a specific purpose. Oftentimes, however, the college will receive an “unrestricted” gift, meaning the money can be used for anything.

“If a gift is unrestricted, we hold it until the end of the year,” said King. “Then we recommend to the Board of Trustees how we think the money should be used. Ultimately, the trustees have the final approval.”

Unrestricted estate gifts usually go first towards keeping the college’s budget balanced. After that, the money is set aside for capital improvements such as renovations.

This was the case with the largest estate gift the college has received to date. In 2006, Knox received nearly $10 million from the estate of Walter Hobbes. The money used for the renovation of Hamblin Hall in 2007, as well as improvements to utilities in the Umbeck Science and Mathematics Center, came from this gift.

King explained that the Hobbes gift was indicative of how properly planning an estate can lead to a larger gift in the end. Mr. Hobbes’ will stipulated that Knox was not to be given any money until both he and his wife passed away.

“Originally, we thought we were going to get about $3 million,” King said. “But after he died, [Mr. Hobbes’] wife lived for 30 more years, so in the end the estate was worth much more.”

How Mr. Maurer’s estate came to be worth so much remains uncertain. Still, Vice President for Advancement Beverly Holmes speculates that he probably did not flaunt his wealth.

“The people who give large gifts don’t drive a Mercedes or have a big house,” she explained.

King agrees.

“My favorite example is the unmarried schoolteacher…who donates because they value education,” he said.

So far, Knox has received $2.2 million in estate gifts in the 2010 fiscal year, not counting the Maurer gift.

Anna Meier

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