Define: Conditional Bequest

Conditional Bequest
Conditional Bequest
Quick Summary of Conditional Bequest

A conditional bequest is a provision in a will or trust that outlines certain conditions that must be met before a beneficiary can receive their inheritance. These conditions can vary widely and may involve specific actions, events, or circumstances. For example, a conditional bequest might require the beneficiary to graduate from college, get married, or reach a certain age before they are entitled to their inheritance. If the conditions are not met, the beneficiary may forfeit their right to the bequest, and the property or assets may pass to an alternate beneficiary or be distributed according to other terms of the will or trust.

What is the dictionary definition of Conditional Bequest?
Dictionary Definition of Conditional Bequest

A conditional bequest refers to a provision in a will or trust that specifies certain conditions that must be met in order for a beneficiary to receive their inheritance. These conditions can vary and may include factors such as the beneficiary reaching a certain age, getting married, or completing a specific task. If the conditions are not met, the beneficiary may be excluded from receiving their inheritance.

n. in a will, a gift that will take place only if a particular event has occurred by the time the maker of the will dies. Example: Ruth’s will provides that “Griselda will receive the nursery furniture if she has children at the time of my death.” This is slightly different from an executory bequest, which could provide for a gift to a beneficiary upon the happening of a specified event. Example of an executory bequest: a trust provides “Betty shall receive the house held in trust when she marries.

Full Definition Of Conditional Bequest

A conditional bequest is a provision in a will that leaves a gift to a beneficiary only if a specific condition is met. This concept is a significant aspect of testamentary freedom, allowing testators to control the distribution of their estate based on future events or actions. The conditions can be either precedent, which must be fulfilled before the gift takes effect, or subsequent, which can revoke the gift if a particular event occurs. This overview will explore the legal principles, types, enforceability, and potential challenges associated with conditional bequests within the context of British law.

Legal Principles of Conditional Bequests

Testamentary Freedom and Public Policy

Testamentary freedom is a cornerstone of English law, giving individuals the right to dispose of their property as they see fit upon their death. However, this freedom is not absolute and is subject to limitations based on public policy and legal principles. Conditional bequests must adhere to these limitations to be enforceable.

Types of Conditions

  • Conditions Precedent: These are conditions that must be met before the beneficiary can receive the gift. For instance, a bequest may state that a beneficiary must graduate from university before inheriting a sum of money.
  • Conditions Subsequent: These are conditions that, if they occur after the gift has been received, can revoke the beneficiary’s right to the gift. An example could be a condition that the beneficiary must not sell a particular property within a specified period.

Drafting Conditional Bequests

Clarity and Specificity

The success of a conditional bequest largely depends on the clarity and specificity with which the condition is articulated. Ambiguities can lead to disputes and may result in the condition being deemed unenforceable. For example, a condition requiring “good behaviour” is vague and subjective, whereas a condition requiring the beneficiary to maintain a specific job role for a set period is clearer.

Legal Advice

Given the complexities involved, it is advisable for testators to seek legal advice when drafting conditional bequests. A solicitor can help ensure that the conditions are lawful, precise, and in line with the testator’s intentions.

Enforceability of Conditional Bequests

Valid Conditions

For a conditional bequest to be enforceable, the condition must be:

  • Possible to Perform: The condition must be capable of being fulfilled. If it is impossible, the condition may be void, and the gift could either fail or be given unconditionally.
  • Legal: The condition must not require the beneficiary to perform an illegal act. Conditions involving illegal actions are void and unenforceable.
  • Certain: The condition must be clear and unambiguous. If there is significant uncertainty, the condition may fail.

Public Policy Considerations

Conditional bequests that contravene public policy are generally unenforceable. Examples include conditions that encourage illegal activities, promote immorality, or restrict marriage without reasonable grounds. Courts will scrutinize such conditions to ensure they do not infringe upon the rights and freedoms of the beneficiary.

Challenges to Conditional Bequests

Disputes and Litigation

Conditional bequests can often lead to disputes among beneficiaries. Common grounds for contesting conditional bequests include:

  • Ambiguity: If the condition is not clearly defined, beneficiaries may disagree on its interpretation.
  • Impossibility: Beneficiaries may argue that the condition is impossible to fulfil, either due to physical, legal, or practical reasons.
  • Public Policy: Conditions that are alleged to be contrary to public policy may be challenged.

Judicial Intervention

Courts have the authority to intervene and modify or strike down conditions in a will that they find problematic. In such cases, the court aims to honour the testator’s intent as closely as possible while adhering to legal principles and public policy.

Case Law on Conditional Bequests

Key Cases

Several cases have shaped the legal landscape regarding conditional bequests in British law. Notable examples include:

  • Re Allen [1953] Ch 810: This case involved a bequest conditioned on the beneficiary being a member of the Church of England. The court upheld the condition, emphasizing the importance of clear and specific conditions.
  • Re Moore [1888] 39 Ch D 116: Here, a condition requiring the beneficiary to adopt the testator’s surname was upheld, illustrating the courts’ willingness to enforce personal conditions that do not violate public policy.

Trends in Judicial Interpretation

Over time, courts have shown a tendency to balance the testator’s intent with the need to protect beneficiaries from unreasonable or oppressive conditions. This approach ensures that conditional bequests serve their intended purpose without imposing undue burdens.

Practical Considerations for Testators

Anticipating Potential Issues

Testators should consider potential challenges and draft conditions that are realistic, clear, and lawful. This foresight can prevent disputes and ensure that their wishes are carried out as intended.

Communication with Beneficiaries

In some cases, it may be beneficial for testators to discuss their intentions with potential beneficiaries to manage expectations and reduce the likelihood of disputes.


Conditional bequests are a powerful tool in estate planning, allowing testators to impose specific conditions on the distribution of their assets. However, the enforceability of such bequests depends on their clarity, legality, and adherence to public policy. By understanding the legal principles and potential challenges associated with conditional bequests, testators can ensure their intentions are fulfilled while minimizing the risk of disputes. Seeking professional legal advice is crucial in drafting effective and enforceable conditional bequests, safeguarding the testator’s wishes and providing clarity for beneficiaries.

Conditional Bequest FAQ'S

A conditional bequest is a provision in a will or trust that specifies certain conditions that must be met for a beneficiary to receive their inheritance.

Conditions can vary widely and may include requirements related to age, marital status, educational attainment, employment, or any other specific criteria set by the testator or grantor.

Yes, conditions in a bequest can be legally enforceable if they are not contrary to public policy and are capable of being objectively determined by a court.

If the conditions of a bequest are not met, the beneficiary may forfeit their inheritance, and the assets may be distributed according to alternative provisions in the will or trust.

Conditions must be reasonable and not violate public policy or laws. For example, conditions that promote illegal activities or discriminate based on protected characteristics may be unenforceable.

Yes, conditional bequests have the potential to create disputes among beneficiaries, especially if the conditions are subjective or open to interpretation.

Yes, beneficiaries or interested parties may challenge conditional bequests in court if they believe the conditions are unreasonable, impossible to fulfil, or contrary to public policy.

Testators or grantors should work with an experienced estate planning attorney to draft clear and unambiguous language for conditional bequests and ensure that the conditions are reasonable and legally enforceable.

In some cases, conditions in a bequest may be modified or removed through legal means, such as by executing a codicil to the will or an amendment to the trust. However, any changes should comply with applicable laws and procedures.

Yes, individuals considering conditional bequests should seek legal advice from an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that the conditions are legally enforceable and aligned with their intentions. An attorney can help draft the provisions and address any potential issues or challenges that may arise.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 7th June 2024.

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