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What is the cy-pres doctrine as related to charitable trusts?

During the important process of planning one's personal estate, a New Jersey resident may choose to leave money in trust to a charitable organization. That organization may exemplify the values or beliefs of the estate planner and represent the legacy that the giving individual wants to leave after he passes on. While giving to charities through one's estate is a noble and worthy thing to do, problems can arise when an estate plan stipulates giving to an organization that does not exist at the time of the estate planner's death.

When the intent of a charitable trust cannot be fulfilled because the receiving entity does not exist, a court may apply the cy-pres doctrine to the trust. Cy-press generally translates to "as near as possible" and the doctrine allows a court to direct charitable funds to another organization that is similar to the entity stipulated in the decedent's estate plan. The doctrine allows the trust to survive rather than letting the stipulated wealth slip back into the estate.

Cy-pres allows a decedent's desire to give to charity to survive even if his estate plan is flawed. Other factors may influence how and whether cy-pres affects a charitable trust. Individuals with specific questions about trusts and charitable giving may benefit from working with estate planning attorneys to record their charitable giving desires.

Prior posts on this estate planning blog have discussed the benefits of using trusts to distribute one's wealth after death. Ensuring that worthy causes and charitable organizations also benefit from a person's wealth can be achieved by including charitable trusts in an individual's estate plan. A lawyer who specializes in probate and estate administration may be able to help individuals better understand these matters.

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