In Search of an Education Program, Part 3
Part 3 - Benjamin the Munificent
"When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property" Thomas Jefferson, 1807
There can be little doubt of Benjamin Sayad Adams’ good intentions. In a gesture all too rare among Assyrians, he bequeathed a considerable part of his estate for the benefit of our people. We must not only salute his kindness, but we must also respect his wishes. Doing the latter may be easier said than done.
As we noted in Part 2 of this series, the Adams Will made a number of outright gifts. These were simple to deliver. On the other hand, he left a substantial part of his estate in the trust of an individual in Arizona, for distribution to six Assyrian organizations. The person entrusted by Mr. Adams to perform the tasks of Trustee was a long-time personal friend, Mr. Dusty Rhodes. Adams instructed the estate trustee "not to distribute any of the funds until he is satisfied … that [these organizations] … will use the funds for the purpose of Assyrians [sic] children’s schooling and education and Assyrian refugee assistance. "
From the foregoing, we can see that there is a two-tiered issue of "trust". In the first instance, Mr. Rhodes must not hand over the funds to any of the six organizations until and unless these organizations satisfy him that they have made appropriate plans for their use in accordance with the Will". In other words, the trustee must do what is reasonable and necessary to assure that the Adams funds are not used for unintended purposes. Without such assurances, the trustee must not release any of the funds.
In the second instance, once the estate trustee turns the funds over to the six organizations, each of them is obligated by law to spend the funds in the manner specified by Mr. Adams, and for no other purpose. Obviously, it is "trust" at this level which is of greater interest to Assyrians in general.
It is important in this regard to understand the significance of the term "trust". The deceased is no longer present to enforce his will, hence it is the trustee who carries on the dead man’s wishes. Once Mr. Rhodes in good faith releases the funds, it is up to each of the six organizations to act lawfully.
The law holds a trustee accountable to a high standard in carrying out the duties he or she has accepted. No one is forced to serve as Trustee, and when a person chooses to accept this responsibility, he or she must discharge the responsibility beyond reproach. No one can disagree that the sanctity of a Last Will deserves protection at any cost.
Unfortunately, the instructions left by Mr. Adams for the use of this remainder are far from clear. Some would also argue that they are short-sighted, but that is a matter of opinion. What is important is that there are obvious ambiguities in Mr. Adams’ bequest. In the preparation of his Will, Mr. Adams appears to have received some questionable advice.
Kibitzer inquiries to date have failed to reveal any linkage between Mr. Adams and any of the six organizations he nominated to receive his estate remainder. That he would name these six entities over any other, and that each of the six was left a portion which differs from the next (ranging from 25% to 10%), suggests that Mr. Adams relied on specific advice from other Assyrians. Mr. Adams would have been much better served if his advisors had also included someone skilled in the use of the English language. The wording of the Adams bequest is replete with ambiguities. For example, "Assyrian children’s schooling and education" ?
What exactly did Adams mean by this language? First of all, is he referring to Assyrian children in the diaspora, where all children already can benefit from the public school system regardless of the family’s financial standing or its station in life? Or is Adams referring to Assyrian children in the Middle East, where in many cases the family is in the most desperate financial bind, and where the child may not receive any schooling at all, unless there is some help provided from overseas Assyrians?
Second, is Adams referring to the general education of Assyrian children? Or does he have in mind more specifically the Assyrian education of Assyrian children? In other words, did Adams intend to provide assistance to students simply because they are Assyrian, even if their studies consist solely of practical subjects, such as math, biology, U. S. history, and the Spanish language? Or did Adams particularly intend to provide assistance to those students who, in addition to their normal courses, are also pursuing Assyrian studies (such as Assyrian history, language, etc. )?
Third, what did Adams mean by "children"? Does this mean students up to the age of 12? Or 14? Or older? Did Adams know that at common law, the term "children" generally refers to persons 14 years or younger? Did Adams have a particular grade or educational level in mind as a cut-off point?
Lastly, the double reference to "schooling and education" raises questions. Did Adams intend these two terms to be interchangeable equivalents? Or did he in fact have a different idea in mind for each term? If Adams meant to use these two words for different meanings, what is the difference he had in mind?
"Assyrian refugee assistance"?
Those of us who have traveled overseas to meet with Assyrians have discovered their pathetic living conditions in such places as Istanbul, Ankara, Amman, Damascus and Athens (to say nothing of the refugee camps). For the most part, these refugees are unwanted and unwelcome in those countries. These are Assyrians at the very bottom of the economic ladder, and each day they find it a struggle to survive. Was Adams aware of these Assyrians, and did he have them in mind when he specified "refugee assistance"?
In north Iraq, we have met hundreds of Assyrians who have fled from other parts of the country, and who are now dislocated, dispossessed and unemployed. These Assyrians are in dire need of outside assistance. Did Adams have in mind these displaced persons (who may have moved from Baghdad and Mosul, to live in Dohuk and Zakho)?
There are thousands of Assyrian refugees in Western countries. Some of them still have an undetermined status, usually in Western Europe. But most of them are now more or less permanent residents of these European countries. Did Adams mean to provide assistance to these resettled persons?
There are also a large number of Assyrians who have now settled in this country, as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. They entered these countries as refugees, and while they do not enjoy a bed of roses, some would say they enjoy advantages and opportunities unequaled elsewhere (except Sweden). Did Adams mean to refer to these "refugees" in his generous bequest?
Some Assyrians claim that the only chance to preserve a "homeland" is for Assyrians to remain there, and for others to resettle there. Could Adams have meant to support those interested in "return migration" to the homeland? The Adams legacy is most generous, but it is also a good test for the six Assyrian organizations he has named. It will be interesting to see whether their actions reflect honorably on the Adams Will.
Kibitzer has asked the six organizations in question to let the Assyrian people know their plans and intentions. Kibitzer believes the Assyrian people have a right to know. But one month has passed since our inquiries, and the news is not good. To date, one of the six organizations has provided a very positive response, another has provided an imperious stonewall, and the other four have yet to demonstrate they can compose a any kind of letter. This should be distressing to Assyrians. Apparently, some of our groups believe they are accountable to no one but themselves. Perhaps they fail to consider the legal responsibilities associated with a charitable trust. This mindset will be the subject of a future Kibitzer essay.
Please send your comments to: Francis Sarguis, email@example.com
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