How far will the courts go in allowing us to control religious preference from our graves? This was the issue in a recent Illinois Supreme Court case, involving the estate of Max Feinberg. Mr. Feinberg and his wife were committed to Judaism and sought to encourage and support Judaism through their estate plans. Specifically, Mr. Feinberg created a trust which contained a restriction that conditioned the receipt of an inheritance by each of their five grandchildren on whether or not each grandchild married a spouse of the Jewish faith. As a result of the clause, only one of the grandchildren was eligible to receive any money from the estate.
Courts have historically wrestled with Will clauses which restrain marriage. The courts have generally refused to enforce clauses which prohibit a beneficiary from marrying anyone as a condition to a bequest. A more debated issue has been partial restraints, conditioning bequests on the religion or the color of the skin of the spouse. A restriction on marriage to a person of a certain skin color would likely be unenforceable because it violates public policy. One might assume that the same principle would apply to religious restrictions.
However, in the Feinberg case the Supreme Court of Illinois enforced the religious restriction. A number of principles were discussed, but the overriding factor was the right to leave one’s estate to whomever one chooses. The corollary to that is that one does not have a constitutional right to inherit anything. So the court held that Mr. Feinberg had the right to condition a bequest on the grandchild’s marital status to a person of Jewish faith.
This decision, although not binding in Arizona, certainly opens the door to discussion on to what extent a court in Arizona will enforce similar restrictions. It is not uncommon, for example, for my clients to restrict distributions based upon completion of education, obtaining a specific degree, or even choosing a specific occupation. All of these conditions would be enforceable. Whether Arizona courts will enforce restrictions on religious choice or similar constraints is presently unknown.
Last Updated on Friday, 26 September 2014 10:34
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