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Will Litigation: When Does It End?

Despite the long history of changes, leading the court to describe Stephen Girard's will as "the most litigated will in history," the court treated the latest proposals -- elimination of the residential program and "high school" classes -- as triggering a stricter standard of review, under the doctrine of cy pres.

How would you like to have "the most litigated will in history?" Such is the case for Stephen Girard.

Stephen Girard passed away in 1831. In his will, Girard created a trust that was to be used to create a school, Girard College. Litigation over the provisions of this will and trust has been brought several times over the years. Recently a judge made yet another ruling in the matter.

Most of the litigation has been over expanding the scope of the school. Originally, it was supposed to be a residential school for orphan boys. Over the years, the courts have allowed that scope to expand to include minorities, female students and children with one living parent. A recent post in The Elder Law Prof Blog, titled "The Latest Ruling on 'The Most Litigated Will in History," has the story of the latest litigation over Girard's estate. This time the trustees wanted to change the trust to allow the school to offer classes to high school students and to do away with the residence hall. The court ruled that it would not allow that.

Obviously, Girard's will is unusual. Most trusts end long before litigation can continue for almost 200 years. However, charitable trusts are different. They can see ongoing litigation over the terms of the gift as circumstances change. When that happens, courts have to decide what to do.

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