Deviation Doctrine

By: Martin M. Shenkman, CPA, MBA, JD

When an irrevocable (cannot be changed) trust is established over time the trust may become impractical or impossible to administer and carry out its purposes. For example, a charitable lead trust, charitable remainder trust, a foundation governed by a trust document, could have been established but the stated purpose (charitable or otherwise) may no longer be feasible. Rather than have an irrevocable trust that cannot function, the law provides through the theory of "deviation doctrine" that the courts can approve some deviation from the stated purpose of the trust in order to prevent the trust from being defeated. For example, the courts reinterpreted the trust agreement that governed the famous Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania in order to keep the foundation and its world famous art collection available for viewing and intact.

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