This section is from the book "The Law Of Real Property and Other Interests In Land", by Herbert Thorn Dike Tiffany. Also available from Amazon: A Treatise on the Modern Law of Real Property and Other Interests in Land .
The question of what constitutes a "charity," as the word is used in the law, has usually been determined with reference to provisions of St. 43 Eliz. c. 4 (A. D. 1601), known as the "Statute of Charitable Uses," which in terms imposed on the court of chancery the duty of the supervision and enforcement of gifts for certain purposes therein named, and such purposes and those of an analogous character are considered "charitable." The meaning which the word has thus obtained is clearly and sue-einctly given by a high authority as follows: "A charity, in a legal sense, may be defined as a gift to be applied, consistently with existing laws, for the benefit of an indefinite number of persons, either by bringing their hearts under the influence of education or religion, by
49. England v. Slade, 4 Term R. 682; French v. Edwards, 21 Wall. (U. S.) 147, 22 L. Ed. 534; Doggett v. Hart, 5 Fla. 215, 58 Am. Dec. 464; Greenough v. Welles, 10 Cush. (Mass.) 580; Brown v. Combs, 29 N. J. L. 36; Arkin v.
Smith, 1 Sneed (Tenn.) 304.
50. See Hill, Trustees (Amer. Ed.) 253; 1 Perry, Trusts, Sec.Sec. 350-356; note to 58 Am. Dec. 464.
51. Ante Sec. 116 (c) notes 33, 34.
R. P.-28 relieving their bodies from disease, suffering, or constraint, by assisting them to establish themselves for life, or by erecting or maintaining public buildings or works, or otherwise lessening the burdens of government. It is immaterial whether the purpose is called 'charitable' in the gift itself, if it is so described as to show that it is charitable in its nature."52
At one time it was supposed that, apart from the Statute of Charitable Uses, courts of equity had no jurisdiction over charities. But this view is now recognized to be erroneous, and it is agreed that, even before the statute, chancery exercised such jurisdiction, and, consequently even in states where the Statute of Charitable Uses has not been adopted, courts of equity generally have power to enforce charitable trusts upon equitable principles peculiar to such trusts.53
From the very nature of a gift for charity, the individuals ultimately to receive the benefit thereof cannot be ascertained or named in the gift,54-55 and consequently, if the beneficiaries under a trust are definite persons, it cannot be regarded as a charitable trust.56 On the other hand, even though no definite persons are testator afterwards becomes illegal from a change in the law, or becomes impracticable from a change of circumstances, the fund, having once vested as a charity, will be applied by a court of equity in a way as near to the testator's particular intention as possible.63 In those states where this doctrine does not prevail, the trust will in such case fail, and the fund will revert to the donor's heirs or representatives.64
52. Jackson v. Phillips, 14 Allen (Mass.) 539, 556, par Gray, J.
53. Vidal v. Girard's Ex'rs, 2 How. (U. S.) 127, 11 L. Ed. 205; Hinckley's Estate, 58 Cal. 457; Hoeffer v. Clogan, 171 111. 462, 40 L. R. A. 730, 63 Am. St. Rep. 241, 49 N. E. 527; Gass v. Wilhite, 2 Dana (Ky.) 170, 26 Am. Dec. 446; Chambers v. City of St. Louis, 29 Mo. 543; Urmey's Ex'rs v. Wooden, 1 Ohio St. 160, 59 Am. Dec. 615; Burr's Ex'rs v. Smith, 7 Vt. 241, 29 Dec. 154; Protestant E. E. Soc. v. Churchman's Rep. 80 Va. 718; Harrington v. Pier, 105 Wis. 485, 50 L. R. A. 307, 76 Am. St. Rep. 922, 82 N. W. 345.
54-55. 2 Pomeroy, Eq. Jur. Sec. 1018; Russell v. Allen, 107 U. S. 163, 27 L. Ed. 397; Fay v. How, 136 Cal. 599, 69 Pac. 423; Ackerman v. Fichter, 179 Ind. 392, 46 L. R. A. (N. S.) 221, Ann. Cas. 1915D, 101 N. E. 493; Catron v. Scarritt Collegiate Institute, 264 Mo. 713, 175 S. W. 571; Johnson v. Bowen, 85 N. J. Eq. 76, 95 Atl. 370; Sowers v. Cyrenius, 39 Ohio St. 29, 48 Am. Rep. 418; Peth v. Spear, 63 Wash. 291, 115 Pac. 164.
56. 1 Perry, Trusts, Sec. 710. See, however, as to cases in which there is an element of definiteness in the beneficiaries of the charity, Gray, Perpetuities, Appendix A.
Owing to the fact that, in the case of a charitable trust, there can be at no time ascertained individuals who are entitled to the corpus of the trust fund, or who can alien the beneficial interest in the property, a charitable trust is usually indefinite in point of duration, and in effect perpetual, but this does not affect its validity.58
In a few states it has been held that the requirement of certainty in the beneficiary or beneficiaries of a trust exists in the case of a trust for charitable purposes to the same extent as in the case of any other trust, and that consequently a trust for a public charity is invalid unless an existing charitable corporation, or association authorized to hold property, is named as a medium for the administration of the charity in behalf of the ultimate beneficiaries.59 Occasionally it has been held that,
57. Ante Sec. 105.
58. Goodman v. Borough of Saltash, 7 App. Cas. 633; Russell v. Allen, 107 U. S. 163. 27 L. Ed. 397; Johnson v. Holifield, 79 Ala. 423, 58 Am. Rep. 596; Alden v. St. Peters Parish in City of Sycamore, 158 111. 631, 30 L. R. A. 232, 42 N. E. 392;Troutman v. De Boissiere Odd Fellows' Orphans' Home & Industrial School Ass'n, (Kan.) 64 Pac. 33; Mills v. Davison, 54 N. J. Eq. 659, 35 L. R. A. 113, 55 Am. St. Rep. 594, 35 Atl. 1072; Yard's Appeal, 64 Pa. St. 95; Staines v. Burton, 17 Utah, 331,
70 Am. St. Rep. 788, 53 Pac. 1015. This is frequently expressed by the statement that charities are not within the rule aganist perpetuities, a use of the latter phrase which is calculated to cause confusion. See post Sec. 179.
59. Gambell v. Trippe, 75 Md. 252, 15 L. R. A. 235, 32 Am. St. Rep. 388, 23 Atl. 461; Trustees for First Soc. of M. E. Church v. Clark, 41 Mich. 730, 3 N. W. 207; Little v. Willford, 31 Minn. 173, 17 N. W. 282; Rhodes v. Rhodes, 88 Tenn. 637, 13 S. W. 590; Fontaine v. Thompson, 80 Vawhile a charitable trust is not necessarily invalid for this reason, the general character of the charity must be indicated in the creation of the trust, and that if the character of the charity is to be determined entirely by the trustee, the trust is void.60 In most jurisdictions, however, a gift for charitable purposes is perfectly valid, however indefinite it may be as to the nature of the charity and the ultimate beneficiaries thereof, provided only a trustee or other person is designated, with power to administer the charity, or to select the medium or mediums for its administration.61-62