Where there's a will . . .


Don Breckenridge doesn't dispute the Salvation Army's legal right to blow most of the family coin on new digs for recovering alcoholics and junkies.

After all, his stepdad's revised will said so.

That isn't what all his grief is about.

The Squamish millworker is hurting because his stepdad altered his will days after the death of Don's mom, Myrtle, thus ignoring the intent of her will.

Instead of leaving his estate to her son and grandkids, he gave the lion's share to charity. And Don, who is her only surviving relative, thinks that's unfair.

He received about $23,000 as executor, while one grandkid received $2,000 and the other two received $1,000. Compare that with the Salvation Army's chunk, $70,000 (for its Mission Miracle Valley drug and alcohol rehab program), and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind's portion, $12,000, and the Mission Lutheran Church's share, $10,000.

Not much Don can do about it, either. The Wills Variation Act says a spouse or child can contest a will if his or her bequest is not adequate. It includes children born in or out of a marriage,

But not stepchildren, unless legally adopted, and Don wasn't.

Don's plea to the Army that it return a portion fell on deaf ears -- but yesterday public-relations chief John Lake told me they'd consider giving the family a name plug. I'll say more about that in a minute.

First let me tell you about Jakob and Myrtle, who married for the second time in April 1966 and made out routine wills two months later.

She left her belongings and assets to Jakob with the request that they go to Don should her husband die before her or soon after. His will left the estate to her, or to Don if she died first.

But two days after Myrtle died in May 1994, Jakob had an appointment with the Army folks. A few days later he framed a new will, leaving Don a fraction of the previous amount. Jakob died on Feb. 16, 1995.

The 57-year-old son asked the Army recently to give the grandkids some back.

But to no avail.

"Does community come before family?" he asked in a letter last May.

"I have worked hard as a millwright in a sawmill all my life, as has my wife, and we do not expect a handout . . . fairness does not prevail . . . I am in total disagreement of this amount . . . being given to the Salvation Army. . . in comparison to the amount to his grandchildren. Is this situation absolutely right?"

The Army's estate lawyers replied, asking Don what he thought they should get. He said $15,000-$20,000, more in line with what the other charities got.

The Army consulted its lawyers some more and then replied, no way.

"As you are aware these charities have responsibility to use the money they receive from estates to benefit the less- fortunate people in our society --the blind, the visually impaired, the poor and the homeless," they wrote. "These charities are just trustees of these funds, they are not beneficiaries. They are conduits for the money they receive.

"The Salvation Army realizes that it must have been a tremendous disappointment to you and your family when you found your stepfather's will, nevertheless they are convinced that they have a moral and a legal obligation to utilize the funds in a manner your stepfather wishes . . . ."

The family was even more ticked off when the Army said it had bought new fittings for the drug centre, compliments of Don's stepdad. They invited the family to check them out.

"A portion of the legacy has already been allocated for the purchase of furnishings for a new dining hall/kitchen at the Salvation Army's Miracle Valley Centre in Langley," they wrote.

"The Salvation Army wishes to invite you and your family to this opening (last Saturday) to see that the legacy left by your stepfather is being well utilized."

Don was not impressed.

"It's a slap in the face," he told me.

"I have no qualms about what they do. They do good things for a lot of people and they certainly have a legal right to the money. But a moral right, I don't think so.

"It's not the Christian thing to do."

I told the Army's Lake how the family felt and asked if there was anything more the Army could do.

He offered to mount a plaque in the family's name. "I'd be happy to sit down and discuss a plaque in memory of the gentleman (Jakob)."

I said I'd pass the offer on.

How about it, Don?