Definition: Rule Against Perpetuities

The rule against perpetuities is a prohibition on creating an interest that will vest (that is, become an absolute present or future right in something, not contingent on any occurrence) in a beneficiary or beneficiaries whose identity cannot be determined within 21 years after the death of the grantor of that interest.1 The main idea behind the rule is to prevent a person from controlling the ownership of property for an unreasonably long period of time after the person’s death.

For the purpose of drafting a will, if the identities of beneficiaries can be determined at the time the will is executed, or will necessarily be able to be determined with certainty within 21 years of the testator’s death, then the gifts will not be voided by the rule.

If you would like to include gifts in your will to a beneficiary or beneficiaries who will not necessarily be able to be identified within 21 years of your death, then you should consult an attorney to make sure that the gifts do not run afoul of the rule.

  1. In Washington, by statute, the rule does not apply to trusts or provisions in an instrument that creates a trust, until 150 years after the trust’s effective date. RCW 11.98.130