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58 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2013 Last revised: 16 Apr 2014

David Horton

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Date Written: December 22, 2013


Supposedly, one of the most important sticks in the bundle of property rights is the power to transfer an asset after death. This Article explores objects and entitlements that defy this norm. Indescendibility — the inability to pass property by will, trust, or intestacy — lurks throughout the legal system, from constitutional provisions barring hereditary privileges, to statutes that prohibit decedents from bequeathing their valuable body parts, to the ancient but misty doctrine that certain claims do not survive the plaintiff, to more prosaic matters such as season tickets, taxi cab medallions, frequent-flier miles, and social media accounts. The Article first identifies the common policy underpinnings of these diverse rules. It compares the related issue of market inalienability — the phenomenon of property that can be given away but not sold — and concludes that indescendibility often serves unique objectives. In particular, forbidding posthumous transfer can avoid administrative costs and signaling problems. The Article then uses these insights to propose reforms to the descendibility of body parts, causes of action, and items made non-inheritable by contract.

Keywords: Wills, trusts, estates, intestacy, descendiblity, market inalienability, property, bundle of rights, NOTA, National Organ Transplant ACT, UAGA Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, abatement, survival actions, wrongful death, right of publicity, Airline Deregulation Act, Wolens, Ginsberg v Northwest Airlines

Suggested Citation

Horton, David, Indescendibility (December 22, 2013). California Law Review, Vol. 102, 2014 ; UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 345. Available at SSRN:

David Horton (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
Davis, CA CA 95616-5201
United States

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