Executory Interest

Executory Interest
Executory Interest
Full Overview Of Executory Interest

At DLS Solicitors, we understand the complexities and nuances of property law, particularly when it comes to future interests in property. One such interest that often requires detailed understanding and careful consideration is the executory interest. This overview aims to provide a comprehensive examination of executory interests, elucidating their nature, types, creation, and significance within the context of property law. Understanding these elements enables clients to make informed decisions about estate planning and property transactions.

Definition and Nature of Executory Interest

An executory interest is a future interest in property that will become possessory upon the occurrence of a specified event. Unlike other future interests, such as remainders or reversions, executory interests are not certain to vest; they only become possessory if the specified condition occurs. This characteristic distinguishes executory interests from more predictable future interests and adds a layer of complexity to their application and enforcement.

Types of Executory Interests

Executory interests are primarily divided into two categories: springing executory interests and shifting executory interests.

  1. Springing Executory Interests: This type of interest arises from the grantor’s estate and typically becomes possessory upon the occurrence of an event that was not immediately possible. For example, if an estate is conveyed to a grantee but is set to begin at a future date, the interest held by the grantee is a springing executory interest. An example might be, “To A, to take possession on their 25th birthday.”
  2. Shifting Executory Interests: This type of interest shifts from one grantee to another upon the occurrence of a specified condition. For example, an estate might be granted to one person, but if a certain event occurs, it will shift to another person. An example could be, “To A, but if B returns from abroad, then to B.”

Historical Context

The concept of executory interests has evolved over centuries, with roots tracing back to English common law. Historically, the rigid feudal system of property ownership did not accommodate flexible future interests. The Statute of Uses 1535 marked a significant turning point by transforming many uses into legal estates, thereby laying the groundwork for the development of executory interests. This statute allowed for more creative estate planning, as it enabled property to be managed in ways that could anticipate future events and conditions.

Creation of Executory Interests

Creating an executory interest requires precise legal language to outline the conditions under which the interest will vest. Typically, an executory interest is created through a will, trust, or deed. The language used must clearly specify the future event or condition that must occur for the interest to become possessory. Below are some common scenarios where executory interests might be created:

  1. Through Wills: An executory interest can be created in a will where the testator sets conditions for future beneficiaries. For instance, “I leave my estate to my son John, but if he dies before reaching the age of 30, then to my daughter Mary.”
  2. Through Deeds: In a deed, a grantor might convey property with a condition that creates an executory interest. For example, “To A and his heirs, but if B returns from abroad within ten years, then to B and his heirs.”
  3. Through Trusts: A trust can include provisions that create executory interests. For example, “The trustee shall hold the property in trust for X, but if Y marries before X, then to Y.”

The creation and enforcement of executory interests are subject to certain legal requirements and restrictions. These include:

  1. Rule Against Perpetuities: This rule states that an interest must vest, if at all, no later than 21 years after the death of a life in being at the time the interest was created. This rule aims to prevent property from being tied up indefinitely and ensures that interests become possessory within a reasonable period.
  2. Clarity of Conditions: The conditions under which an executory interest will vest must be clearly defined and unambiguous. Vague or overly broad conditions can lead to legal challenges and potential invalidation of the interest.
  3. Legality of Conditions: The conditions specified must be legal and not against public policy. For example, conditions that promote illegal activity or are discriminatory cannot create valid executory interests.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Executory interests offer several advantages and disadvantages that should be carefully considered.


  1. Flexibility: They allow for greater flexibility in estate planning, enabling property owners to account for future contingencies and conditions.
  2. Control: Property owners can exert greater control over how and when property is transferred, ensuring it aligns with their long-term intentions and goals.
  3. Protection: They can provide protection for beneficiaries by stipulating conditions that must be met before they can take possession, which can be useful in managing young or potentially irresponsible heirs.


  1. Complexity: The creation and management of executory interests can be legally complex and require precise drafting to ensure validity.
  2. Uncertainty: Because executory interests are contingent on future events, there is inherent uncertainty in whether the interest will ever vest.
  3. Legal Challenges: They are more susceptible to legal challenges, particularly if the conditions are ambiguous or perceived as unfair.

Case Studies

To better understand the practical application of executory interests, consider the following case studies:

Case Study 1: Family Estate Planning

Mr. Smith wishes to ensure his estate remains within his family but also wants to provide for future contingencies. He creates a will stating, “I leave my estate to my son John, but if John dies without children, then to my nephew Robert.” In this case, Robert holds a shifting executory interest that will vest if John dies without children. This arrangement allows Mr. Smith to plan for the continuation of his estate within the family while also providing for an alternative beneficiary.

Case Study 2: Charitable Trust

Ms. Davis establishes a charitable trust for educational purposes with the provision, “The trustee shall hold the property in trust for the benefit of X University, but if the university ceases to operate within 50 years, then to Y Foundation.” Here, Y Foundation holds a springing executory interest that will vest if X University ceases operations. This ensures that the property will continue to serve a charitable purpose even if the original beneficiary can no longer do so.

Modern Applications and Considerations

In modern estate planning and property transactions, executory interests continue to play a significant role. They are particularly useful in scenarios where property owners wish to retain control over their property beyond their lifetime or where they want to provide for multiple contingencies.

Use in Business Transactions

Executory interests can also be used in business transactions. For example, in commercial leases, an executory interest might be created where a property is leased to a business but will shift to another business if the original lessee fails to meet certain performance targets.

Estate Tax Implications

When creating executory interests, it is important to consider the potential tax implications. The value of future interests may be subject to estate or inheritance taxes, and careful planning is necessary to minimise tax liabilities. Consulting with legal and financial experts can help navigate these complexities.


Executory interests are a vital tool in property law, offering flexibility and control in estate planning and property management. However, their complexity requires careful consideration and precise legal drafting to ensure they are valid and enforceable. At DLS Solicitors, we are committed to providing expert guidance and support to our clients in navigating these intricate legal waters. Whether you are planning your estate, managing property transactions, or seeking to understand the implications of future interests, our team is here to assist you every step of the way.

Executory Interest FAQ'S

An executory interest is a future interest in property that will only take effect upon the occurrence of a specified event. It is a legal interest created by a will or trust that will pass to a beneficiary at a future date or upon the happening of a specified condition.

An executory interest cuts short or divests an interest in property before it naturally terminates, often based on a condition subsequent or a future event. In contrast, a remainder interest takes effect after the natural termination of a preceding estate, such as the end of a life estate.

Conditions that can trigger an executory interest include the occurrence of a specific event (e.g., a beneficiary reaching a certain age), the non-occurrence of an event (e.g., failure of a beneficiary to marry), or the fulfilment of a condition precedent set out in the will or trust.

Yes, an executory interest can generally be transferred or sold unless the terms creating the interest explicitly prohibit such actions. However, the transferability can be limited by the conditions attached to the executory interest.

If the condition for an executory interest is not met, the interest does not vest in the intended beneficiary. The property may then remain with the current holder or pass to another person as specified in the will or trust.

An executory interest can be voided if it violates the Rule Against Perpetuities, which limits the time within which the interest must vest. If the condition extends beyond the perpetuity period (usually 125 years in the UK), the interest may be deemed invalid.

An executory interest is created through a will, trust, or deed that specifies a future interest in property contingent upon a specific event or condition. The document must clearly outline the terms and conditions under which the executory interest will take effect.

The Rule Against Perpetuities ensures that executory interests must vest, if at all, within a certain period (125 years in the UK). This rule prevents property from being tied up indefinitely and ensures that interests in property become vested and marketable within a reasonable timeframe.

Yes, executory interests can apply to both real property (land and buildings) and personal property (movable assets). The creation and enforcement of these interests follow the same legal principles regardless of the type of property involved.

Disputes regarding executory interests are resolved through legal proceedings in court. A judge will interpret the terms of the will, trust, or deed to determine the validity and enforceability of the executory interest. Legal advice from a solicitor specialising in estate or property law is often necessary to navigate these disputes.


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: 11th July 2024.

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Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

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