1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cy-près

CY-PRÈS (A.-Fr. for “so near”), in English law, a principle adopted by the court of chancery in dealing with trusts for charitable purposes. When the charitable purpose intended by a testator cannot be carried into effect, the court will apply the funds to some other purpose, as near the original as possible (whence the name). For instance, a testator having left a fund to be divided into four parts—one-fourth to be used for “the redemption of British slaves in Turkey and Barbary,” and the other three-fourths for various local charities—it was found that there were no British slaves in Turkey or Barbary, and as to that part of the gift therefore the testator’s purpose failed. Instead of allowing the portion of the fund devoted to this impossible purpose to lapse to the next of kin, the court devoted it to the purposes specified for the rest of the estate. This doctrine is only applied where “a general intention of charity is manifest” in the will, and not where one particular object only was present to the mind of the testator. Thus, a testator having left money to be applied in building a church in a particular parish, and that having been found to be impossible, the fund will not be applied cy-près, but will go to the next of kin.

In the United States, charitable trusts have become more frequent as the wealth of the country has progressed, and are regarded with increasing favour by the courts. The cy-près doctrine has been either expressly or virtually applied to uphold them in several of the states, and in some there has been legislation in the same direction. In others the doctrine has been repudiated, e.g. in Michigan, Tennessee, Indiana and Virginia. For many years the New York courts held that this doctrine was not in force there, but in 1893 the legislature repealed the provisions of the revised statutes on which these decisions rested and restored the ancient law. Statutes passed in Pennsylvania have established the doctrine there, and dissolved any doubt as to its being in force in that state.