Theodora Vander Maazen was a client Jeff Billings really liked. An attorney with Godfrey and Kahn who relocated from the Fox Cities to Milwaukee, he has worked with the family for years.
“She was a wonderful, salt-of-the-earth kind of person. She was all about her family and was definitely a light that brought them all together,” Billings said.
When Theodora, who went by Dorothy, died in 2015 at age 82, Billings was part of the team that worked on her estate. The direct heirs were her three sons and the child of her daughter who preceded Dorothy in death.
The professionals worked through the list of assets and finally came to a difficult piece of real estate. The commercial lot in the Nicolet Commercial Park in Grand Chute had some barriers to access and wasn’t large enough to interest most developers. The .87 acres had been listed for 18 months. It wasn’t generating much interest and there were no offers at the level the family believed the property to be worth.
Having worked in the Fox Cities and with deep family ties here, Billings was aware of the Community Foundation and our Community Real Estate and Personal Property Foundation’s (CREPPF) ability to handle real estate gifts. He suggested that rather than dividing the financial interest in the property among the four heirs, they deed over their claim to it and have the trust that owned it donate the lot to the Community Foundation.
“Everybody got behind the idea and was excited about it,” he said.
In cases such as this, the expert volunteers on the CREPPF board evaluate the potential gift to streamline the sale process, minimize risk and optimize the value of the gift. CREPPF receives the gift, sells it and directs the sale proceeds to a charitable fund established by the donors. CREPPF accepted this gift in 2018 and succeeded in selling it, for more than Billings expected.
He described it as a triple win – Dorothy’s memory was honored, the community received a gift and the estate was able to be settled in a timely manner.
Making this transaction even more unusual was that the sale proceeds were used to establish – at Billings’ suggestion – an unrestricted fund, which allows the Community Foundation’s board to determine the best use for the grant money the fund generates. Most often the donor names an advisory committee to select the grant recipients or designates the nonprofits that will receive the money.
“The unrestricted nature of the gift was very Dorothy,” Billings said. She would have been happy about something that adapts to meet current community needs.
The 25 unrestricted funds the Community Foundation has – most established in its early years – support the Bright Idea Fund, a competitive grant process that funds projects and programs in six focus areas throughout the Fox Valley region. Bright Idea Fund grants currently are directed at helping nonprofits suffering from the added expenses or lost revenues caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Billings sees the wisdom in that.
“We don’t know what the next COVID issue is going to be,” Billings said. Whatever it is, a commercial lot that had been a difficult asset will be contributing to the solution in Dorothy Vander Maazen’s name.