Wikipedia on the "Rule against Perpetuities" says that it was sometimes used to restrict how long one family could hold onto a, possibly aristocratic, estate.

Lastly, the rule against perpetuities was sometimes used to prevent very large, possibly aristocratic estates from being kept in one family for more than one or two generations at a time.

That sounds very strange to me. I've never heard of laws saying how long a family can pass down things.

Or is that just an unconventional use? If so, who's used it that way, and why?

  • 5
    I think you misunderstand the rule. It doesn't limit the ability of each generation to pass the house (or whatever) on to the next generation, if that's what each generation wants to do. Instead, it limits the ability of THIS generation to REQUIRE that it be passed on.
    – jamesqf
    Dec 1, 2020 at 3:24
  • @jamesqf - Thanks! That makes a lot more sense! I'll take that as an answer, "You misunderstood the sentence." :)
    – Malady
    Dec 1, 2020 at 3:41
  • 2
    Look up on Wikipedia the case of Thellusson v Woodford and the fictional case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce. The Thellusson case impelled the government to bring in restrictions on will-dictated inheritance of estates lest the accumulations of the capital of large estates created amounts that could endanger the finances of the country. In the Thellusson case, it was calculated that the accumulations mandated over generations by the testator would, in due course, outgrow the UK national debt. Luckily, a succession of lawyers keen to ensure that this national disaster was averted by their own fees. Dec 1, 2020 at 5:47
  • There is such a rule, but the rule against perpetuities isn't it. Google "grants in tail male". The point of excluding females inheriting these large estates wasn't sexism. It was to ensure many of them would eventually revert to the crown.
    – C Monsour
    Dec 1, 2020 at 14:53
  • 3
    @C Monsour I believe the "in tail male" applies to titles, not land or property. I am not aware of any law in the UK which prohibited women from inheriting an estate. The practice of entail was an entirely different thing, designed to keep an estate whole and in 'the family' but unentailed property could be inherited by women. And their exclusion from titles probably goes back to feudalism, when the "price" of titles was military service.
    – TheHonRose
    Dec 2, 2020 at 4:29

1 Answer 1


A bit of googling found these excellent explanatory notes:

The application of this common law rule, which still applies without statutory modifications to dispositions made before 16 July 1964, can be demonstrated by an example. X makes a gift of property in a will to the first of A’s children to attain the age of 21. On X’s death the will takes effect. It purports to create a property interest for the first of A’s children to meet the condition specified. The perpetuity period will begin to run on the date of X’s death and will continue for the remainder of A’s life plus 21 years. If one looks at the matter as at the date of X’s death, it is certain that any child of A will attain 21 (if at all) within 21 years of A’s death, since A cannot produce more children once dead. The gift therefore does not infringe the rule against perpetuities.

On the other hand, a gift in X’s will to the first of A’s children to become a doctor would be void at common law, assuming none of them is already a doctor. It is not certain, at the date of X’s death, that any child of A will become a doctor (if at all) within 21 years of A’s death. It is certainly possible that a child of A may become a doctor within that time. However, looked at from the date of X’s death, it is possible that the first child of A to become a doctor may not do so until after the perpetuity period has expired. Hence the gift would be void at common law.

The rule against perpetuities was originally developed in the context of family settlements to curtail control by one generation of the use of property by future generations. However, the rule was later extended to other types of property rights such as future easements, options to purchase and some rights of pre-emption

Back to your original question: this does not prevent A leaving property in their will to their child B, who leaves it to their child C in B's will, who then leaves it to D etc. It does prevent A from trying to construct setups in wills which control the ability of their inheritors to use the estate, especially setups in which the estate would continue to exist as an entity controlled (in the legal sense) only by the dead person.

(Note that in practice the combination of inheritance tax, soaring maintenance costs, war requisitions, the overtaking of feudal agriculture as a source of wealth, and the poor fire safety of pre-20th century buildings means that very few of the old big country houses are still in the private hands of the families who owned them.)

  • The quote uses X to refer to the first generation and A for the second, but you use A to refer to the first generation. This may confuse some people.
    – Spencer
    Dec 2, 2020 at 17:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.