Estate of Levity: All of this will be yours – as long as you don’t grow a mustache.

Can with a picture of a mustache

Sometimes testators attempt to exert their influence on their heirs from the grave.  An Englishwoman bequeathed £50,000 to each of her three children on the condition that they not spend it on “slow horses and fast women and only a very small amount on booze.”  Two of the children were females.  In another case, a Canadian testator named his grandchildren as beneficiaries of his will, “provided they are not lazy, spendthrifts, drunkards, worthless characters, or guilty of any act of immorality”.  The will, along with this provision, was admitted to probate.  The judge determined that the clause was a valid condition subsequent.  (Reprinted from Getting the Last Word, or, “A Good Stout Rope” by Eric Penzer, Esq.)

A gift with a “condition subsequent” means that the gift is made to the beneficiary but if a specified “condition subsequent” occurs then the gift is revoked.  The condition subsequent is usually an activity the testator wants to discourage such as gambling, using drugs, or, as in the cases above: heavy boozing, womanizing, and other “immoral” behavior.

Some disliked behaviors are less obvious: In 1862, Henry Budd left his riches in trust for his sons on the condition that neither of them grow a mustache.  Presumably, if one grew a mustache, they would both lose their inheritance.

In other instances the motivation is clear: The American patriot, Patrick Henry, included a provision in his will that called for his wife to lose her entire inheritance if she remarried.  However, this didn’t stop his wife from moving on.  Not only did Dorothea Dandridge remarry but she chose Patrick Henry’s cousin as her new mate.  Strangely, the German poet, Heinrich Heine, had the opposite idea about a century later.  He left his wife, Eugenie Mirat, his entire estate on the condition that she remarry.  He explained that this way “there will be at least one man who will regret my death.”  (This gift however is considered a “condition precedent” because the condition must be satisfied prior to the gift being made.

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