Modification of charitable trusts
Like private trusts, charitable trusts too can be modified in certain circumstances. The modification procedure is known as "cy pres", a medieval law French expression literally meaning "as near [as possible]".
In effect, a charitable trust that has become impossible or impracticable or (per the Uniform Trust Code) otherwise wasteful may continue if a court can find an alternate specific purpose for the trust derived from the general purpose behind the trust's original (and now impossible or impractical) specific purpose. Simple inefficiency or inconvenience is not enough.
Cy pres should be distinguished from administrative deviation, where the charitable trust's specific purpose can be generally achieved but where technical compliance will defeat or substantially impair the accomplishment of the trust's purpose, or otherwise will render that problematic.
The case of the Pennsylvania-based Barnes Foundation illustrates many of the challenges posed by the cy pres and deviation doctrines. At what point do the implementation of these do impermissible violence to the charitable intent of the settlor? And to what extent should that count?