I previously wrote here about the very public battle going on between the family of a very wealthy donor and Princeton University.  The same public relations issues at play in that case were also at play (albeit on a much smaller scale) in a probate case involving the University of Wisconsin, as reported in Woman wins probate fight with UW:

The case highlights a dilemma for nonprofit groups: how hard to pursue money they believe is theirs. Fight too hard and they risk antagonizing potential donors, but too soft might mean they lose money for their cause.

The “dilemma” faced by charities is a product of the different expectations the public has when it comes to non-profits: they aren’t supposed to be driven solely by economic concerns.  Unlike private litigants, we seem to expect more from charities.  Note how the opposing side in the UW case expressed indignation at the university’s “inexplicable” decision to “needlessly” litigate the contested inheritance:

The foundation’s tactics drew harsh criticism from North Central Trust Co., the administrator of Mennes’ estate. In July, company lawyers told the high court in a brief the foundation was “inexplicably” fighting the case even after losing several rounds. They said the litigation was draining the estate of money meant for the university and his daughter.

“If the foundation develops a reputation for needlessly engaging family members in litigation, it is less likely that people will provide for the University of Wisconsin (as opposed to other worthy causes) in their estate plans,” the lawyers wrote.

Lesson learned?

There’s no getting around the different expectations the public . . . and judges . . .  have when charities are involved in probate litigation.  Whether the charity is your client or the opposing side, simply being aware of this dynamic may make or break your case.

Thanks to Chicago-area attorney Joel A. Schoenmeyer, author of Death and Taxes – The Blog, for bringing this article to my attention in his blog post entitled Charitable Beneficiaries Play Hardball.