A donor may set up a charitable foundation in perpetuity, and the foundation’s trustees are obligated to carry out the donor’s intent. These two defining features of the American legal system afford donors a form of immortality, writes Ray Madoff in her new book, Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American Dead (Yale University Press). But when current needs are effectively surrendered to the “dead hand” of the past, and when that trend is driven not by the wishes of the dead so much as by the living who stand to benefit the most – trustees, bankers, and financial services companies, society and the donor himself or herself ultimately lose, Madoff argues.
On May 18, Hudson Institute’s Bradley Center gathered a panel of experts to discuss the issues raised in Madoff’s book: Is it impossible to prevent donor intent from being corrupted? To what extent should it be honored after a donor’s death? Who should decide?