The cy pres doctrine is used by courts to distribute charitable gifts when the intended beneficiary of the gift is unavailable or the bequest is no longer feasible. The term “cy pres” essentially means “as near as possible.” Rather than invalidate the charitable gift, the court can select a new beneficiary that closely corresponds to the original intent of the donor. For example, if a decedent established a trust with the intention that, after the death of their last living relative, the remaining trust funds go to a specific charity that no longer exists, the court may direct the funds toward a similar charity that fulfills the general charitable intent of the decedent.
The cy pres doctrine has also been applied in the distribution of class action settlement awards, where either funds go unclaimed or distributing the funds to every individual class member is not cost-effective. In such cases, the court may approve of a beneficiary, such as a charitable organization, that relates to the issue underlying the class action and accounts for the geographic diversity of the class members.
See also: Cy Pres: Charitable Trusts
[Last updated in July of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]