Trusts and the Doctrine of Estates

The “doctrine of estates” is the common law system for the classification of divided ownership. Its primary purpose is to differentiate the legal consequences of the variety of concurrent, present, and future estates, but it also serves to differentiate the dispositive language required to create or transfer such estates. The doctrine of estates, therefore, embraces a sizable part of the law of conveyancing, including the large body of doctrine known as rules of construction.

In modern practice the classification and construction of present and future interests usually occurs with respect to beneficial interests in trust. It has not been sufficiently recognized, however, that dispositions in trust present special problems of classification and construction that do not arise in nontrust dispositions. It is my purpose to discuss a number of such problems that have not received adequate systematic attention. These problems have their source in the complexities of dispositive language typically found in trust instruments.