All About Estates

University’s Decision on Spending $4 Million Bequest from Frugal Donor is Controversial, Fully Permissible

University of New Hampshire library cataloger and alumnus Robert Morin died in 2015 at the age of 77. Morin, known for his thrifty lifestyle, spent little on food or clothes, and drove a 1992 Plymouth until his death. His will bequeathed a $4 million fortune to his employer, with the only instructions that $100,000 of the gift be spent at the school’s Dimond Library, where Morin worked.

However, controversy later arose after it was reported that $1 million of the donation would be spent for a video scoreboard at the university’s new $25 million football stadium. The decision was called wasteful, and incongruent with Morin’s passion for movies and books (Morin reportedly read 1,938 books in chronological order that were published from 1930 to 1938). The university defended the decision by saying Morin became a football fan at the end of his life. But they also said that Morin gave them no instructions on how to spend most of his gift, aside for the $100,000 for the library, and entrusted them with deciding how to spend the money.

Morin could have directed the university to spend the money differently, if he wanted to. In Ontario, there are various ways a testator can restrict the use of a gift in a will, although their efficacy can depend on the circumstances of the gift and how the gift is given. A condition can either be attached to the gift as a condition precedent (i.e., a condition that entitles the beneficiary to the gift) or a condition subsequent (i.e., a condition as to whether the beneficiary keeps the gift). For example, in one Ontario case, a will bequeathed money to the city of Oshawa “to be understood that the graves and markers shall never be removed except for resetting.” Years later, when the cemetery site was expropriated and the graves were relocated, the court held the limit in the will on the gift was valid condition and ruled that the bequest should instead pass to the beneficiaries of the residue of the estate.

Testators, however, do not have carte blanche to add conditions on gifts. There are a number of ways a condition can be held to be invalid. For example, a gift of land that directs that the land cannot be sold or mortgaged forever is a “repugnant condition” and the condition is invalid because it deprives the beneficiary from full use of the property.[1] A limit that is overly vague also may be invalid. A bequest in a will that “The whole of my estate must be used for God only” was held by the Supreme Court of Canada to be too vague and the bequest was void.

As for Morin’s gift, a petition was started by a university professor asking the school to reconsider, asking that it instead be used by “strengthening the academic core mission of the University.” However, the university has held firm. The university argued that revenue from advertising on the video scoreboard would far exceed the estimated $40,000 annual return from creating $1 million scholarship endowment fund.

[1] Re Collier (1966), 60 D.L.R. (2d) 70 (Nfld Sup Ct).

About Michael Rosen
Michael Rosen is a lawyer at de VRIES LITIGATION LLP. He practises in the area of estates, trusts and capacity litigation. He is a graduate of York University and the University of Western Ontario’s Faculty of Law. Email: