Charities squabbling over $33 million estate gift from UPS heir
When H. Guy Di Stefano died last summer in his Issaquah home at age 90, his neighbors knew him as the "UPS guy. " What they may not have...
Seattle Times staff reporter
When H. Guy Di Stefano died last summer in his Issaquah home at age 90, his neighbors knew him as the "UPS guy."
What they may not have known is that he left an estate worth approximately $264 million — among the largest in the nation last year — to be divided equally among eight charities.
Two of them are now in court fighting over the approximately $33 million that Di Stefano left to Greenpeace. The Salvation Army, another recipient, claims Greenpeace shouldn't get the money because Di Stefano left his money to Greenpeace International, which no longer exists. Instead, it was absorbed into the Greenpeace Fund.
The Salvation Army asserts that because Greenpeace isn't the same organization named by Di Stefano, it should forfeit the money — the largest bequest in Greenpeace history.
Di Stefano was an heir to United Parcel Service because his wife's father was one of the early managers of the company. He reportedly had no other heirs — court documents say he had three children from an earlier marriage but disinherited them — so he left his money to the eight charities, which included the Santa Barbara Hospice Foundation, the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust and the World Wildlife Fund.
The question about the disputed Greenpeace name arose when Bank of America, trustee for Di Stefano's estate, filed a petition with King County Superior Court last fall concerning the Greenpeace name change. Only the Salvation Army challenged the will.
The Salvation Army "is making the technical argument, based on the strict reading of the trust and will, that if one of the named charities no longer qualifies, it should be divided among the other charities," said Tom Wetterer, attorney for Greenpeace.
He said Greenpeace argues that, under Washington law, the court should look at the true intent of the will and Greenpeace should receive the funds.
The case is now in mediation in Seattle; if it's not settled, a trial is set for April 30.
The Salvation Army won't talk about the case. "We want to keep it in the realm where it is now and prefer not to talk about it," said Kathy Lovin, spokeswoman for the Salvation Army's territorial headquarters in Long Beach, Calif.
According to King County court documents filed in the case by the Salvation Army, under the language of Di Stefano's Trust, "Greenpeace Fund Inc. does not and cannot take the gift that had originally been designed for Greenpeace International Inc.
"Because Greenpeace International had dissolved and no longer existed at the time of Guy's death, the gift to Greenpeace International lapsed and must be distributed in equal shares to the other qualifying charitable beneficiaries."
According to Wetterer, Greenpeace International existed when Di Stefano wrote his will in 1991, but it became Greenpeace Fund seven months before he died.
"He wanted to leave it to Greenpeace," Wetterer said. "He didn't know the difference and didn't care."
In court documents, Greenpeace argues, "to distribute to the Salvation Army and others the share Mr. Di Stefano set aside for the work of Greenpeace would be an unjustified affront to the right of a decedent to leave his estate as he wishes."
Wetterer said when Di Stefano's attorney wrote his will, he checked Internal Revenue Service listings and Greenpeace Fund wasn't on the list, so he put Greenpeace International in the will. At the time both existed, Wetterer said.
He said he was surprised by the Salvation Army challenge. Over the past few years there were other cases where money was mistakenly left to Greenpeace International, Wetterer said, "but when the trustees were told it should go to the Greenpeace Fund it wasn't a problem. This is the first time it's a problem."
According to an obituary, Di Stefano was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He worked for the Federal Aviation Administration until he retired. He enjoyed gardening, classical music, practical jokes, crossword puzzles, golf and the Mariners.
He was married for 46 years and built a jewelry store for his wife, Doris, in California. While vacationing in Washington, they decided to build a home in Issaquah and split their time between Issaquah and a home in California. His wife died in 2005.
Graham Howard, of Issaquah, Di Stefano's next-door neighbor for 13 years, said he showed no outward sign of his wealth, except for his three cars: a Cadillac, a Lincoln Town Car and a Jaguar. He said he split his time between his home in Issaquah and houses in California, but after he suffered a stroke and could no longer drive, he moved permanently to Issaquah.
According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Di Stefano was the fifth most-generous donor in the nation last year.
Peter Stalker, president of the board of the Santa Barbara Hospice Foundation, another of the charities to which Di Stefano left $33 million, said it never occurred to his organization to challenge the estate.
"If the Salvation Army was willing to go to bat on this, we would certainly expect to share in any settlement," he said. "But we're not taking an active role."
He said the bequest, the largest in the hospice history, saw the hospice budget grow from $9 million to $42 million.
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or email@example.com
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