Real Property Trust and Estate
Defective Catastrophe Clauses in Wills: Paths to Reform
This Article explores the problem of construing what I term “defective catastrophe clauses” in wills. Defective catastrophe clauses provide for the contingency that a beneficiary will die simultaneously, or in a common calamity, with the testator but neglect to allow for the possibility that the beneficiary will predecease the testator. The Article explores the extensive case law addressing this problem, spotlighting the most recent and ballyhooed case on point, Estate of Duke. The Article observes that this body of decisions reflects a tension between applying existing law, which fails to respond adequately to the problem, and employing one or another legal fiction to circumvent existing law. The Article argues that lawmakers should confront the problem head on by establishing a new default rule, ideally in the form of a statute, construing catastrophe clauses by implication to cover the possibility that the beneficiary will predecease the testator.