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Estate Planning Newsletter

When Your Charitable Gift Fails

If you create an estate planning document leaving property to a charity, but after your death the transfer cannot occur, the court may apply the cy pres rule.

The words “cy pres” are French for “as near.” If your charitable wishes cannot be achieved, the court uses this doctrine to attempt to fulfill your wishes as near to your original wishes as possible.

Why a Gift May Be Non-Transferable

Your charitable gift may not be transferable to your chosen charity because that charity:

  • Refuses to accept it
  • Could not be identified
  • No longer exists on the date of your death

Additionally, a gift may not be possible due to the fact that you:

  • Identified more than one charity in an ambiguous manner
  • Failed to name a specific charity as recipient
  • Failed to specify a charitable purpose

Under cy pres, when your charitable gift cannot be transferred to the organization specified in your trust, it may be given to a related charity that has a related charitable purpose.

Limited Application

The cy pres rule typically will not be applied unless there is no way your particular charitable purpose is possible. Courts are reluctant to second guess intent, so the rule may not be applied if you have not clearly articulated a charitable intent.

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