Law School Pop Quiz: Recite the Rule Against Perpetuities

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on May 17, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

No interest is good unless it must vest, if at all, no later than 21 years after some life in being at the creation of the interest.

If you understand this statement, go find yourself a fertile octogenarian to bother. The rest of you? Read on. Apparently the Rule Against Perpetuities is actually a semi-useful tool.

Useful that is, if you, or your client, hate all of your living relatives.

Believed to be one of the richest men in America at the time of his death, the will of Michigan lumber baron Wellington R. Burt was clearly tended to by a well-versed trusts and estates attorney.

After doling out measly allowances to his children, cook and chauffeur, the will states that his incredible fortune was to be withheld. It would then be distributed 21 years after the death of the last grandchild born in his lifetime.

He died in 1919. She died in 1989.

And the will is now in the final stages of probate.

The 12 remaining Burt relatives, all of whom will receive a graduated cut of the $100 million estate, include 3 great-grandchildren, 7 great-great grandchildren, and 2 great-great-great grandchildren.

They're probably all thankful granddaddy was a bit of a nut.

If this story doesn't encourage you to get familiar with unborn widows and magical gravel pits, that's okay. But only if you're licensed in California.

State courts recognize that the Rule Against Perpetuities makes no sense, and have ruled that its misuse is not an appropriate basis for a malpractice suit.

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