Wayne Ryan founded Streck Laboratories in Nebraska. He died in 2017. One of his daughters was my high school’s homecoming queen. His family has been involved in all sorts of litigation during his life and that continued after his death.
In 2016, he entered into a written pledge agreement with the Shadow Ridge Country Club. The amount of the pledge was $20 million. Ryan’s intent was to turn Shadow Ridge into “a significant asset to the City of Omaha” comparable to the zoo and TD Ameritrade ballpark. There was an 11-page list of capital improvements in the amount of $12.5 million. A statue of Dr. Ryan would be placed on the first tee.
One of the conditions of the gift was that certain specified litigation involving his company was resolved and the Streck Company stock would be sold to a third party. I’ll skip that part of the case.
A promise to make a gift in the future is not legally enforceable. But a pledge or subscription to a charitable organization like a college or church is. Therefore, if you sign such a pledge and pass away before you fulfill your pledge the entity can file a claim against your estate and be paid.
But Shadow Ridge is a private limited partnership so it cannot rely on the rule for charities. Shadow Ridge will, however, be able to litigate its claim and collect the money if it can show at trial that it incurred “substantial expenses in reasonable reliance upon Ryan’s pledge agreement….” Substantial expenses and reasonable reliance are all questions of fact.
Twenty million dollars is a large sum of money but it was less than 3 percent of Wayne Ryan’s estate. Court records show that his estate was worth over $750 million at the time of his death and most of his wealth was given to the Ryan Foundation. The Ryan Foundation supports Catholic education, medical research and health care.
In re Estate of Ryan, 302 Neb. 821 (2019).