As Americans increasingly use estate planning tools to provide for their favorite charities, the charitable trust is an important instrument that fits uniquely into general trust law. While charitable trusts are similar to private trusts to a great extent, there are also some critical differences between the two vehicles, especially regarding their enforcement. Specifically, state attorneys general play a special role in the enforcement of charitable trusts. This Note examines this special role of the state attorney general—namely, how trustees interact with the attorney general, arguments for why the role of the attorney general needs to be reformed or eliminated, and arguments in support of letting the attorney general maintain his or her power in these charitable trust cases.
After considering the historical background on charitable trusts, this Note analyzes a recent New Hampshire case, In re Nashua Center for the Arts, as an example of how the New Hampshire Probate Court affirmed the power of the state Attorney General in this charitable trust setting. In that case, several groups of concerned citizens tried to intervene when the trust for Nashua Center for the Arts, part of the Edith Carter estate, announced it would relocate its funds to the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire. The court denied their motions to intervene because only the state Attorney General has the power to represent them—the parties did not have standing to intervene on their own. The Note then explores other New Hampshire cases, Massachusetts cases, and legal disputes in other states to provide additional perspectives.
This Note concludes that while the court’s decision in In re Nashua Center for the Arts initially seems like a harsh injustice for the nonprofits in Nashua that felt entitled to make use of the funds from Edith Carter’s estate, the court correctly applied the existing law. The outcome of the case should remind nonprofits and citizens in New Hampshire that, while the state has held itself out as one of the most progressive states for trust law, the significant powers held by the state Attorney General will not be limited any time soon.
Angelina M. Spilios, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: How the New Hampshire Probate Court Has Strengthened the Power of the Attorney General in Charitable Trust Suits, 17 U.N.H. L. Rev. 379 (2019).