A class action lawsuit accuses Moody Bible Institute of taking advantage of the elderly
Moody Bible Institute was started in 1886 by D.L. Moody as a way to train individuals in Biblical studies and evangelism. The Institute has since grown to include campuses in Chicago, Spokane and Michigan. Moody Bible Institute has been very well respected around the world for its training of pastors, evangelists, and for its radio program.
A recent class action lawsuit in Atlanta is accusing Moody Bible Institute of taking advantage of elderly people in estate planning. This lawsuit was filed by Lisa Higdon on behalf of 89-year-old Hazel Turner who is suffering from dementia. Higdon, Turner’s caretaker, started to become suspicious of a Moody representative who frequently visited Turner. Higdon requested that the Moody representative not visit Turner to discuss her estate when she was not present. In the end, Hazel Turner signed papers that made Moody Bible Institute the trustee of her estate, a beneficiary, and the executor of her will.
Estate planning assistance by non-profits is not unusual. And, it is not unusual for non-profit religious-oriented schools to offer assistance in estate planning. Hope International University, my alma mater, has a very detailed section on its website in regard to planned giving and different ways an individual can incorporate charitable giving in their estate planning. Moody Bible Institute, however, has absolutely no information on its website about incorporating planned giving through an estate.
The lack of information Moody has available in regard to estate planning is not what concerns me, it is Moody’s response to the pending lawsuit from the news article that troubles me:
A spokesperson for the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago issued a statement saying:
“Moody Bible Institute is a non-profit, accredited institution of higher education based in Chicago that also includes radio and publishing ministries. Since our founding by D. L. Moody 130 years ago, we have trained thousands of men and women to serve as missionaries, church leaders, as well as founders and leaders of non-profits and humanitarian-based organizations around the globe. Because of the generosity of donors, we are able to provide a biblically based tuition-paid education to our undergraduate school students in Chicago. We have been made aware of the lawsuit recently filed in the Northern District of Georgia. A nearly identical lawsuit filed by the same law firm was recently dismissed by the Court earlier this year. Like the previous lawsuit, there is absolutely no merit to the Plaintiff’s case and we intend to vigorously defend against the unfounded allegations and are confident we will again prevail.”
Where is the concern for Hazel Turner? When informed by Lisa Higdon that she had signed over her entire trust to Moody, Turner replied, “I would never do that.” Somehow, a Moody representative was able to convince Ms. Turner to do that. Moody could do the right thing by stating that it will look into how their representatives consult individuals in estate planning in order to ensure that they are not taking advantage of vulnerable aging adults.
My concern is that as the aging population grows in the United States, we may see more cases of non-profits taking advantage of vulnerable adults like Hazel Turner.