When Charitable Gifts fail ➲ Courts may grant Cy Pres Orders

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Charitable Gifts fail for many reasons

For many reasons, especially given the potentially infinite life-span of a Charitable Trusts, it may well find itself with insufficient funds to achieve it's stated charitable purposes, in other words the Charitable Gift fails!

If the Charitable Trust has been set up by an experienced lawyer, the trustee of the Charitable Trust will have an express power of amendment to alter the terms such that it's objectives match it's restated charitable purposes.

What is a Charitable Trust?

A Charitable Trust can be defined as:

“A purpose trust that is directed to exclusively charitable purposes [1] and that exhibits public benefit [2]"

Charitable Trusts need not have any vesting date, and may exist in perpetuity

A trust is a Charitable Trust when it is established for charitable purposes (objects), which can be quite general (for example for the relief of poverty) or highly specific (for example the construction of a hospital to treat + conduct cancer research).

The Court may use its discretion to grant Cy Pres Orders

If this is not the case, the trustee of a Charitable Trust is under an obligation to apply to the Court for an Order to enable property to be applied Cy Pres, or be at risk of personal liability by acting in breach of trust.

In much the same way, the Executor of a Will may find themselves in a similar situation, where the estate is not sufficient to give effect to the Willmaker's charitable gift, or simply because the nominated charity no longer exists, or there is more than one charity to select from because the Will has not been specific enough when naming the charity [3].

Cy Pres (pronounced “Sigh Pray”) is a phrase adopted from the French meaning, “as near as possible” to the original intention.

Under the Cy Pres Doctrine the Court will take account of all the facts and circumstances, and if they can determine that the gift was made with a general charitable intent, they may exercise their discretion to make appropriate Cy Pres orders.


[1] Leahy v A-G (NSW) (1959) 101 CLR 611.

[2] Attorney-General (NSW) v Perpetual Trustee Co Ltd (1940) 63 CLR 209).” (Encyclopaedic Australian Legal Dictionary, Lexis Advance).

[3] Estate of Polykarpou; Re a Charity [2016] NSWSC 409


This FAQ was written by James D. Ford GAICD | Principal Solicitor, Blue Ocean Law Group℠.

Important Notice:

This FAQ is intended for general interest + information only.

It is not legal advice, nor should it be relied upon or used as such.

We recommend you always consult a lawyer for legal advice specifically tailored to your needs & circumstances.