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Is it possible to refuse a bequest or inheritance?

In a recent article from Think Progress, an independent non-profit organization, climate scientists urge museums to refuse donations from fossil fuel companies and "funders of climate science obfuscation." In particular, the scientists advise that money from David Koch, co-owner of multinational corporation Koch Industries Inc. Koch, it seems, is a generous donor -- $67 million since 1997 -- to organizations that actively oppose climate change theories, practices and policies.

Koch is not just a donor. He is a frequent and generous sponsor of museum exhibits and holds seats on the boards of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History. Even if Koch is not using his involvement to further the denial of climate change, the scientists argue, his reputation as a denier undermines the credibility of the museums that take his money. Museums are meant to be disseminating scientific knowledge to the general public -- again, according to the scientists -- not publicizing the generosity and, ultimately, the views of a person or an organization that works hard to deny climate change.

The scientists' position triggered a discussion about a particular area of probate law: how to refuse a bequest or inheritance. Say Koch left a museum a generous sum in his will. How would the museum refuse it? The director or board can't just send the check back.

Well, that's not entirely true. They could send the check back, hopefully with a polite note.

A better way would be to disclaim the bequest. We'll explain more in our next post.

Source: Think Progress, " The Koch Brothers Are Not OK, Scientists Say," Joe Romm, March 25, 2015

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