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After 34 Years, Nursing Home Receives $1 Million Donation

A farmer and devout Lutheran, he'd spent his last days in the North Canton nursing home until his death in 1987.
elder care

Both the timing and the amount of Oscar Geckler’s gift to St. Luke Lutheran Community was unusual, to say the least. His last will and testament, 27 pages long, had very specific instructions concerning a donation only available 34 years after his death. The $1 million donation, as described by a recent article, “Stark County nursing home gets $1M donation after 34-year wait” from The Repository, is a great example of just how much control can be exerted through estate planning.

When Geckler died, Ronald Regan was president, and now-President Biden was a young senator from Delaware. Oscar and his wife Bernadine lived on a farm at the northwest corner in Nimishillen Township, outside Canton, Ohio. The property wasn’t at all neat and tidy. Those who knew him said the farm was littered with broken-down tractors and Oscar was a bit of a tightwad. The couple had financed a few projects at their church, but what neighbors didn’t know was that the same man who raised sheep and pigs and milked his own cows was also an avid reader of The Wall Street Journal.

He invested wisely and was worth $2 million when he died.

The couple had no children of their own, although he had two from a prior marriage. His estate was meticulously planned out. He had created four separate trusts to ensure his wife and other family members would be financially secure after his death.

Funds in one of the trusts were dedicated to care for the cemetery gravesites of Oscar and his wife, along with seven other family members.

However, the will had more details. Grave upkeep was to continue for exactly 19 years and 1 day after the death of the last Geckler family member. Bernadine died on October 3, 2002, and the clause expired in early October 2021.

The $ one million gift will help support St. Luke’s retirement communities, which have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic. The church operates many facilities throughout the area, ranging from independent living to skilled nursing care. Most of the money will be spent in North Canton, where Geckler lived.

In 2004, an attorney representing St. Luke went to probate court in an effort to reform the trust. The thinking was to obtain some part of the donation before its expiration date, since so much money was in the trust—far more than was needed to maintain the gravesites. The request was to take $750,000 from the trust and leave the rest for gravesite maintenance.

The judge denied the request. “Pure economic expedience simply is not a basis for reforming or accelerating distribution of trust assets….” was the explanation. Otherwise, the clear direction and expressed intent of Oscar Geckler would be violated. St. Luke’s would have to wait, but the wait is now over.

Trusts are used in an estate plan to achieve your wishes, whatever they may be, including unusual requests, like Oscar Geckler’s. Your estate planning attorney can create a plan to suit your individual and unique wishes.

Reference: The Repository (Oct. 4, 2021) “Stark County nursing home gets $1M donation after 34-year wait”