Early American Laws of Charitable Gift Planning

In Vidal v. Girard’s Executors (1844), the Supreme Court validated charitable trusts under longstanding national traditions of common law, allowing private donors to create trusts for public purposes in states that had not enacted statutes recognizing charitable trusts.

The American Bible Society (ABS) accepted the management of a life income trust in 1841, and issued a gift annuity contract in 1843. ABS soon had second thoughts about the legal and financial risks of its life income gift program. Building on the Vidal decision, ABS board member Luther Bradish wrote a powerful legal defense and administrative guidelines for nonprofit management of life income trusts and gift annuities, now known as On the Matter of Accepting Trusts (1848), which led ABS to develop America’s largest gift annuity program and influenced hundreds of other nonprofits.

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