What is the cy pres doctrine?

If you have decided to set up a charitable trust, you may believe that taking the proper steps now will ensure that your wishes are honored after your death, regardless of circumstances. However, what happens to your trust if the purpose you wanted it to fulfill is no longer possible? In this type of case, the court may invoke the cy pres doctrine, which would allow the funds to be used in a manner that matches your original intentions as closely as is feasible.

The National Paralegal College notes that before this can occur, it must be demonstrated that your intent was not restricted to a specific charity or organization. If your wishes are, in fact, limited in this way, then the property would revert back to you or to your successors in interest rather than continuing to be productive in a charitable way. You may choose to make your intent clear if you do not wish for the trust to be used for another purpose.

Not only must the court determine that you had a general intent, the purpose you chose must either be fulfilled, or it must be evident that it cannot be carried out in the way you intended. This could be because it is no longer practicable, or that it has become illegal. No matter the reason, the court must consider and attempt to replicate your intention when making modifications to the trust. This information about trusts and the cy pres doctrine is general in nature, and should not be interpreted as legal advice.