A Rule Against Perpetuities for the Twenty-First Century

75 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2006  

Frederick R. R. Schneider

Northern Kentucky University - Salmon P. Chase College of Law

Date Written: March 2006


The common law rule against perpetuities maintained alienation of property by voiding interests in property that did not vest within a life in being at the creation of the interest plus twenty-one years. The rule was applied strictly, often producing harsh results. The courts used a what-might-happen test to strike down nonvested interests that might not have vested in a timely manner. During the last half-century, many legislatures have softened the application of the rule against perpetuities by enacting wait-and-see provisions, which require courts to decide cases based on the facts as they actually developed, and reformation, which allowed some nonvested interests to be reformed to save them from invalidity.

This paper describes the common law rule. Then it traces the modern developments, including promulgation of the widely adopted Uniform Statutory Rule Against Perpetuities, which includes an alternate 90 year fixed wait-and-see period to be applied in place of the common law's lives in being plus twenty-one years.

The paper continues by exploring the policies which underlie the rule against perpetuities. Then, after finding that there is no significant movement to repeal the rule except for trusts, it is established that proposals for that federal law, including federal transfer taxes, cannot and should not be used to implement the policies served by the rule itself.

There is a continuing need for state rules against perpetuities. The paper proposes that the rule be modified to make it more understandable and easier to apply. The proposed rule would replace lives in being plus twenty-one years with a fixed term of years. This would eliminate most of the difficulties encountered in application of the rule. Wait-and-see and reformation are part of the proposed rule. The proposed rule provides for determination of valid interests at the end of the fixed term of year Rule and contains a definition of "vested" to enable judges and attorneys to apply the rule in cases which will arise many years in the future.

Keywords: Property, Wills, Trusts, Rule Against Perpetuities

Suggested Citation

Schneider, Frederick R. R., A Rule Against Perpetuities for the Twenty-First Century (March 2006). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=887921 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.887921

Frederick R. R. Schneider (Contact Author)

Northern Kentucky University - Salmon P. Chase College of Law ( email )

Nunn Hall
Highland Heights, KY 41099
United States

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