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Estate of Wilson

Court of Appeals of New York
452 N.E.2d 1228 (1983)


Facts

In Matter of Wilson, 87 A.D.2d 98 (1982), Clark Wilson’s will directed his estate to be held in trust, with trust income to be provided as college scholarships to men, who were to be nominated by the local school district’s superintendent. In Matter of Johnson, Edwin Johnson’s will left his estate in trust, with trust income to be provided as college scholarships to men, who were to be selected by the school district’s board of education and the high school principal. In both cases, the school districts stopped cooperating with the trustees after complaints were made that the trust terms were discriminatory. In Matter of Wilson, the trustee (plaintiff) brought an action to determine the validity of the trust provision. The lower court found that the school superintendent's actions did not implicate the Fourteenth Amendment or violate any federal statute regarding sexual discrimination, and ordered the trustee to continue administering the trust. The Appellate Division found that administering the trust according to its stated terms was impossible, and applied the cy pres doctrine to strike the provision permitting the school superintendent to certify the names of qualified candidates for the scholarship, instead permitting the candidates to apply directly to the trustee. In Matter of Johnson, the executrix of the will, the board of education, and the U.S. Attorney General stipulated to changing the word “men” in the will to “persons.” The Attorney General brought an action to construe this portion of the will. The lower court refused to reform the trust according to the stipulation, and instead found that the testator’s intent would be better implemented by replacing the school district with a private trustee. The Appellate Division reversed, and applied the cy pres doctrine to reform the trust and eliminate the gender restriction. Both cases were consolidated on appeal.

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Holding and Reasoning (Cooke, C.J.)

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Concurrence (Meyer, J.)

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