I recently read the book “The Ultimate Gift.” The book is fictional and told by an attorney who helped a wealthy man plan a very intricate estate plan to help teach one of his relatives a lesson. The book takes place for a year after the man’s death. In that year, the nephew has to undergo a series of tests in order to receive his inheritance. Each of the tests serves to teach him a valuable lesson about life. At the end of the year he has successfully completed each of the tests and is then allowed to receive his inheritance. The sequel to the book involves the family contesting the will based on this nephew receiving the money in this way.
In estate planning we rarely, if ever, see any plans that are this complicated. However, it is not uncommon for a person to try to enforce their own visions of how things should be from beyond the grave. It is entirely legal to place conditions on inheritance and this does sometimes happen. For example, many times people leave money for the purpose of education of their living relatives and that is the only use that is allowed for that money. There is a limit though. A court will not validate provisions that would require a beneficiary to do something illegal.
Courts will also not validate any provision that go against public policy. It is not always easy to determine what a court will consider to be against public policy. The court’s goal is to honor the will-maker’s intent as much as they possibly can. There are certain provisions that have consistently been found to violate public policy. An example would be a condition requiring the separation of a husband or wife. A condition that the Courts have found difficulty in determining the validity of is anything concerning conditions against marriage with certain people or based on the religion of the person. Because of the uncertainty in many areas, it is much better to ask a lawyer for help on making the conditions in your estate to ensure that they are actually enforceable.
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