Nora Lee Heines received counseling at Lexington's YWCA Spouse Abuse Center in the 1990s and decided she wanted some of her money to go to the center after her death.
But when she died in June 2007 at age 74 of injuries sustained in a three-car accident on Nicholasville Road, there no longer was a center by that name. She'd changed legal documents stating where her trust fund money was to go after her death several times, but the documents continued to list the YWCA Spouse Abuse Center as a recipient.
Now, three entities are fighting over the money that the retired registered nurse designated to go to the center. Attorneys involved in the case say two separate amounts are at issue — $20,000 Heines bequeathed directly to the YWCA Spouse Abuse Center and a "residual" bequest to the center of about $500,000. The latter amount represents half of what was left after other organizations received money from Heines' estate.
The entities involved in the squabble are the Brenda D. Cowan Coalition for Kentucky; Lexington's Southern Acres Christian Church, which Heines attended; and Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program Inc.
Fayette Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorsone sided with Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program, naming it as successor to the YWCA Spouse Abuse Center, which qualified it to receive the Heines trust money. The Cowan coalition and the church appealed, and on Tuesday, three Kentucky Court of Appeals judges heard oral arguments in the case.
The YWCA closed its spouse abuse center June 30, 2004, after the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association, which provided funding for the emergency shelter, decided to stop doing so. KDVA began offering emergency shelter services at Lexington's Salvation Army on July 1, 2004. Several months later, KDVA, United Way of the Bluegrass and other organizations started Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program Inc. to oversee a new emergency shelter and offer other domestic violence services.
In early 2005, a new program to help domestic violence victims and provide other social services was established at the YWCA. It was named the Brenda D. Cowan Coalition for Kentucky, after Lexington's first black female firefighter, who died in February 2004 while responding to a domestic violence call. In summer 2005, the YWCA of Lexington broke its 89-year relationship with the national YWCA and changed its name to the Brenda D. Cowan Coalition for Kentucky.
Attorney Sharon Morris, who represents the Cowan Coalition, told the appeals court judges that Heines' intent was "crystal clear," that she wanted the money to go to the agency that had helped her. That agency, she said, had simply undergone a name change. Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program Inc., she said, was an unrelated charity.
"If I wanted to give a gift to something that didn't exist, who would I give it to," attorney Stan Cave said, referring to the YWCA Spouse Abuse Center. By law, there had to be an entity for the money to be given to, he said.
Cave, who represents Southern Acres Christian Church, said that when Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program Inc. filed for tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service, it put "no" after the question on the form that asked whether it was the successor to another entity. Then, years later, Cave said, BDVP indicated it had been wrong and was indeed a successor to another charity.
Cave, whose client was designated as the recipient of the other half of the approximately $1 million in residual bequest money, also told the judges the Cowan Coalition should not receive the money. The reason: When the local YWCA discontinued its affiliation with the national YWCA and was renamed the Brenda D. Cowan Coalition for Kentucky, its mission changed from a religious one to a secular one, defeating Heines' purpose, he said.
Attorney Matthew Stinnett, representing Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program Inc., said more than 90 percent of the YWCA Spouse Abuse Center's budget went to BDVP after the YWCA center closed in 2004.
BDVP is what the spouse abuse center is today, he said.
Appellate court Chief Judge Jeff S. Taylor, who heard the arguments with Judges Glenn E. Acree and Sara Walter Combs, said it probably would take 45 days for an opinion to be issued.