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Unconstitutional Perpetual Trusts

Posted by on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 in Articles, Volume 67, Volume 67, Number 6.

Unconstitutional Perpetual Trusts


Perpetual trusts are an established feature of today’s estate planning firmament. Yet little-noticed provisions in the constitutions of nine states, including in five states that purport to allow perpetual trusts by statute, proscribe “perpetuities.” This Article examines those provisions in light of the meaning of “perpetuity” as a legal term of art across history. We consider the constitutionality of perpetual trust statutes in states that have a constitutional ban on perpetuities and whether courts in states with such a ban may give effect to a perpetual trust settled in another state. Because text, purpose, and history all suggest that the constitutional perpetuities bans were meant to proscribe entails, whether in form or in function, and because a perpetual trust is in purpose and in function an entail, we conclude that recognition of perpetual trusts is prohibited in states with a constitutional perpetuities ban.


Steven J. Horowitz
Associate, Sidley Austin LLP.

Robert H. Sitkoff
John L. Gray Professor of Law, Harvard University.