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Updated: 12/16/2013 10:43:12AM

Former teacher left Fort Meade school trust fund

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Christmas may have come early for the Fort Meade FFA and libraries of Fort Meade schools, not from Santa, but from a former teacher and librarian.

Polk County School Board members learned this week that the late Jack L. Coulter, who had served as librarian at a Fort Meade school and taught fourth grade, had remembered the schools of the south Polk County community in his will. Coulter died in April, 2010.

School Board attorney Wes Bridges told the board Coulter had left the schools a “substantial bequest” in his will, but several matters had to be ironed out before the schools could actually get the money.

According to Bridges, Coulter’s estate attorney Kelly Hardwick had asked the board to approve a court petition to “determine beneficiaries” and “approve distribution of assets” from Coulter’s estate.

Bridges said Coulter’s will left assets in trust for the “Fort Meade Junior/Senior High School Agricultural Department’s String Band” and “several libraries of the public schools in the city limits of Fort Meade.”

The will stipulates that the assets be held in a trust fund, but Hardwick, according to Bridges, is petitioning the court to allow the distribution of a a share of the assets to the school board if the board agrees to keep the funds in an account separate from the district’s general funds.

Bridges also told the board because the String Band no longer exists, those funds earmarked for its maintenance, would be redirected to the Future Farmers of America program. He further explained that Hardwick will explain to the probate court that the FFA and school libraries have advisory committees or boards that would oversee the expenditure of the endowment.

Bridges also told the board Hardwick is either obtaining or has already got waivers from the other heirs to redirect the funds to the school district. He also said the “assets” were several parcels of property which he explained would be liquidated and the funds dispersed to the named heirs. In addition to the school board, there were five heirs or potential heirs listed in the documents provided by the attorney.

Attempts to contact Hardwick for further details were unsuccessful, but independent research indicates the estate owns two parcels of property: one parcel at 316 Second St. SE in Fort Meade and the other at 1998 U.S. Highway 17 S., also in Fort Meade. According to Polk County property records, the first is valued at $35,000 and the second at $51,000. One source said the Second Street property was located across the street from the Fort Meade High School campus and included a small house.

Attempts to contact some of the potential heirs listed in the documents provided by Bridges were unsuccessful. One named in the will was contacted in Wauchula and maintained he would “not agree to sell my part of that property.”

Also explained by Bridges was language in the last testament was the requirement that the bequest be maintained as the “Jack L. Coulter Educational Opportunity Trust” but the school system’s lawyer said the fees to maintain a trust fund would outweigh any earnings it may reap.

“It would cost much more to operate it as a trust than it could make,” Bridges said.

In other language contained in the Coulter will documents Bridges shared with the board was that, “I direct that the trustees shall manage, maintain,distribute and pay such income to the designated trust beneficiaries until the expiration of the term of 21 years from the date of the death of the last surviving member of the School Board of Polk County who held such office on the date this trust was created. Upon the expiration of the term of the trust, the remaining corpus thereof shall vest in the school board of Polk County … to use as that body shall deem wise.”

Hardwick, said Bridges, maintains to the probate court that the terms of the trust are “unlawful, ambiguous, impracticable or wasteful” ergo, the bequest should be made directly to the school board.

The school board approved Bridges’ request to agree to the terms set out by the estate attorney, but Bridges had no timetable for action from either the estate attorney or the probate court. He also had no information on how much the schools’ share of the estate would be.

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