Will Leaves $140k to Small Minnesota Fire Department

A small Minnesota fire department has received an early Christmas present, courtesy of a bequest from a local resident who was grateful for the hard work and thoughtfulness of the firefighters.

Eleanor Sanford, 99, of Dakota, died in September and her will has left $140,000 to Dakota Fire Rescue. The gift equates to roughly eight times the department’s annual budget.

Dakota Fire Chief Scott Hoeg, who was Sanford’s neighbor, was reported to have been speechless when informed of the bequest. He said the money will likely be put toward a new fire truck.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
  • Pete

    If your annual budget is ~$17,500, wouldn’t a gift of this size be better used as an endowment? Surely if a truck is needed badly enough there’s got to be a federal grant available instead of blowing this in one shot? Without knowing the details of the budgeting I’m curious about overall legal considerations – would you be willing to post some thoughts?

    • Pete

      Folks are free to supply their perspective – but I don’t know enough about the particulars of the department.

      Also, its not really a legal question – its more of a business decision. Assuming the funds were not specifically limited in the will to purchase a vehicle, the department can use the funds as it chooses.

      One thing that can happen in these situations is the normal funding provider (fire district, municipality, or county) may see the donation as an excuse to cut back on funding – which would be unfortunate and short sighted because it could dissuade others from donating in a like manner.

  • Pete

    Ah – I’m sorry, I was more interested in the legal hurdles a small department might face in setting up an endowment. I have zero legal knowledge and was just wondering if it would be easier to spend it in one shot (assuming there are no provisions in the mail), vs thinking about some long term planning.

    • Pete

      The ease of setting up the endowment would depend on the type of department. If it was a municipal FD it could be a huge problem. If it was a volunteer fire company (501c3) it could be very very easy.

      Let’s assume it is a volunteer fire company. They could easily establish the endowment within their own financial structure – perhaps as a separate investment account, or even comingled it with other capital investments – so long as it is clearly delineated on the books.

      Another option would be to retain a bank to oversee the endowment fund (VERY EXPENSIVE). There are also some charitable foundations that will manage charitable endowment funds for a modest fee. Here in Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Foundation will do exactly that. In fact I have set up a few endowments for fire departments that way through the RI Foundation.


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