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What is the cy pres doctrine?

As the personal representative of the estate of a family member, friend or client in Roswell, you might take great pride in the testator's altruism evidenced by the contributions made through whatever charitable trusts he or she has established. Yet organizational circumstances can often change over time, and ultimately the tax distinctions or charitable aims of a group might be altered to the point of conflicting with your testator's original intentions. What is to then be done in order to ensure that the funds allotted to a charitable trust are not wasted? 

According to the Cornell Law School, a legal principle exists known as "the cy pres doctrine." This allows the court to modify the application of a charitable trust when unlawful, impossible or impractical circumstances make maintaining the original purpose of the trust wasteful. By law, a charitable trust must meet one of the federal government's designated purpose categories. These include: 

  • Relief of poverty
  • Advancement of education or religion
  • Promotion of health
  • Governmental purposes
  • Purposes benefitting a community 

Say an organization that your testator set up a charitable trust to support changes its mission from offering poverty relief to supporting financial research. It could continue to benefit from the trust, but not for the purposes your testator intended. 

In such a case, the court can intercede and apply the resources designated to the trust in a manner as near as possible to its initial intentions ("cy pres" is actually a French term translated to mean "as close as possible"). In the aforementioned example, the court may decide to divert the trust's resources to another anti-poverty organization, or pool them and distribute them equally in a single lump-sum to other groups dedicated to the same purpose. 

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