Real Estate Law – What was that rule against perpetuities in the film The Descendants?

If you were paying close attention while watching the excellent new film, The Descendants, with George Clooney, you may have wondered what the rule against perpetuities was and why it was important to a certain piece of real property in the movie.

The rule against perpetuities is a long-standing rule in US common law which discourages a person from controlling real estate long after that person dies.  The rule basically prohibits interests in land that vests more than 21 years after the death of an identifiable individual living at the time the interest was created.  For those who really want to know how the rule works (god help you), see the Wikipedia entry on the rule against perpetuities for examples on when the rule applies or doesn’t apply.

As this article describes, The Descendants’ situation is based on some real-life Hawaiian family trusts.  Spoiler alert: for what might happen in the story after the movie ends, see this article.

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