Cy Pres in New York: The Application and Impact on Charitable Trusts

Cy Pres Doctrine

Cy PresCy pres is a legal doctrine that plays a crucial role in ensuring the proper administration and distribution of funds in charitable trusts. Originating from the French phrase “cy près comme possible,” which means “as near as possible,” the doctrine is applied when the original purpose of a charitable trust becomes impossible, impracticable, or illegal. In this article, we will explore the application of the cy pres doctrine in New York, its significance, and its potential impact on charitable trusts and their beneficiaries.

New York’s Application of Cy Pres

New York has adopted the cy pres doctrine under the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL), specifically in Section 8-1.1. This section provides that if a charitable trust’s original purpose becomes unlawful, impracticable, or wasteful, the court may direct the application of the property to a charitable purpose that is as near as possible to the original intent of the donor.

The application of cy pres in New York is subject to certain conditions:

  1. The trust must have a charitable purpose: The doctrine applies exclusively to charitable trusts, which are created to benefit the general public or a significant portion thereof, rather than private individuals.
  2. The original purpose must be impossible, impracticable, or illegal: The court must determine that the original intent of the donor cannot be carried out due to changed circumstances or other reasons.
  3. The donor’s general intent must be preserved: The court should seek to apply the trust property in a manner that closely adheres to the donor’s original intent and maintains the trust’s overall purpose.

Significance of Cy Pres in New York

The cy pres doctrine plays a vital role in the administration of charitable trusts in New York. By providing a legal framework for the modification of trust purposes, the doctrine ensures that charitable assets are not wasted or rendered ineffective due to unforeseen circumstances. Additionally, cy pres helps maintain the public’s trust in charitable organizations by ensuring that their resources continue to serve the intended beneficiaries.

Impact on Charitable Trusts and Beneficiaries

The application of the cy pres doctrine in New York has both positive and negative implications for charitable trusts and their beneficiaries.

Positive Impacts:

  • Preservation of charitable assets: The doctrine helps to ensure that the funds allocated for charitable purposes are not wasted or misused when the original purpose becomes impossible, impracticable, or illegal.
  • Adaptability: Cy pres allows charitable trusts to adapt to changing circumstances, ensuring that they can continue to provide meaningful benefits to their intended beneficiaries.
  • Encouragement of charitable giving: The doctrine’s flexibility reassures donors that their contributions will continue to serve their intended purpose, even if circumstances change.

Negative Impacts:

  • Potential deviation from donor intent: Although the cy pres doctrine aims to preserve the donor’s general intent, there is a risk that the modified purpose might not fully align with the donor’s original vision.
  • Legal uncertainty: The doctrine’s application can sometimes be subjective, as courts must determine whether the original purpose is impossible, impracticable, or illegal, and identify a suitable alternative purpose.


The cy pres doctrine plays a crucial role in the administration of charitable trusts in New York by ensuring that their assets continue to serve the public interest, even when the original purpose becomes unattainable. While the doctrine has some potential drawbacks, its overall impact helps preserve the integrity of charitable trusts and supports the state’s thriving philanthropic sector.

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