For generations, law students have struggled to master an arcane legal concept called the Rule Against Perpetuities. In concept, the Rule is simple. It prevents the accumulation of large concentrations of wealth in private trusts that never end. However, the application of the Rule can be so complex that the California Supreme Court once declared that an attorney could not be held liable for botching the drafting of a trust that was invalid under the Rule.
The Rule Against Perpetuities has been repealed in New Jersey. However, the Hawaiian version of the Rule plays a role in the plot of a newly released film. In “The Descendants”, George Clooney plays the part of Matt King, who must decide whether to go along with plans to sell a pristine stretch of Kauai coastlands that have been held in his family for generations. The issue has come to a head because a trust must be terminated in accordance with the Rule Against Perpetuities.
An article in the Wall Street Journal Speakeasy blog says the movie’s producer, Jim Burke, and director, Alexander Payne, took great pains to ensure that the plot accurately reflected the legal doctrine.