Strings Attached: What To Know About Conditional Bequests

Make no mistake about it – as the author of your will, you have the power to name beneficiaries and pass on your property as you see fit. That doesn't mean, however, that everything in a last will and testament will be upheld by the probate court. One sticky area is conditional bequests. Read on to find out more.

Voiding Out the Condition

Some bequest conditions are not meant to be. When you attach a condition to a bequest, it increases the chances of problems with the will. In the below circumstances, the condition may be struck or voided from the will if it fails to follow the rules of probate.

Against Public Policy

What is public policy? The answer tends to change over time and depends on who you ask. In most cases, however, it's generally things like:

  1. The fulfillment of the conditions results in the commission of a crime. For example, a nephew is told they must defraud someone before they can inherit a mountain cabin.
  2. The condition involves tampering with a relationship. For example, a wife is told she must ruin their daughter's marriage before she can inherit some family jewels. Other variations on this are restrictions on a surviving spouse not remarrying.
  3. To meet the condition, the beneficiary must take legal actions involving minor children. For instance, a son is instructed to regain custody of his children before he can inherit the family home.

Unreasonable Conditions

If it is judged highly unlikely that a condition can be satisfied, it can be voided. For example, if the condition involves a transaction with someone who has passed away, it is not possible to satisfy.

Vague Conditions

When the reasoning behind a condition cannot be ascertained, it may be judged uncertain. This can occur with vaguely worded conditions like requiring a niece to attain a degree in a "high-paying field" before she can get a sum of money.

Probate Court's Discretion

When a condition is not illegal, vague, or impossible, the court may still void it. The court might judge the condition too difficult given the circumstances. For instance, if the beneficiary has developed an illness that prevents them from complying with a condition, they may strike it down.

The court has several options for dealing with voided bequests. Depending on what the property is, they can make it part of the general estate or they can allow the beneficiary to receive the inheritance without conditions. To ensure that your conditional bequests fall within reason and legality, consult with a probate attorney when you write your will.