Court upholds $5.6M estate ruling

Posted: November 10, 2017 at 2:26 a.m.

FORT SMITH — The Arkansas Court of Appeals upheld Wednesday a Sebastian County circuit judge’s ruling that will allow the newly opened Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine to receive $5.6 million originally bequeathed to Sparks Hospital in 1966.

Sebastian County Circuit Judge Jim Spears found that since Sparks Hospital no longer existed in the form it was when 21-year-old Tom Alexander first wrote his will, the closest he could get to fulfilling Alexander’s wishes after his death in 2015 was to give the money to the nonprofit successor of Sparks Hospital.

That was Sparks Regional Medical Center, but it sold the assets of the hospital and its name to for-profit Health Management Associates Inc.in 2009.

Spears’ ruling directed that the estate go to Sparks Regional Medical Center because Alexander had intended his estate to be a charitable gift to the hospital to “make improvements and purchase necessary equipment.”

Spears ruled that Sparks Regional Medical Center could carry out that charitable intent because the $41 million it received from the sale of the hospital to Health Management Associates was donated to the Degen Foundation, which used the money to build the osteopathic college.

The appeals court referred to Spears’ instructions that Sparks Regional Medical Center must use Alexander’s money “‘solely in pursuit of its hospital-like services such as providing medical care and community programs at the medical school or in the clinic [across the street from the college] owned by SRMC’ and that SRMC must memorialize Alexander’s bequest as directed in the Will.”

In the appeal by 11 of Alexander’s natural heirs, Appeals Court Judge Bart Virden wrote that because of several changes the hospital went through from 1966 to Alexander’s death in 2015, Sparks Regional Medical Center was not the same entity as the Sparks Hospital Alexander wrote about in his will.

Alexander’s heirs had petitioned that his will should not be carried out and that his estate should have been disposed of as if he had died without a will.

Virden wrote that Alexander’s will intended for his estate to be used to help the people in the area, and that Spears’ ruling to give the money to the osteopathic college came as near to Alexander’s intent as possible.