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Putting a “Religion Clause” in Your Will or Trust

jewish-clauseThe Illinois State Supreme Court will soon consider the case of In re Estate of Max Feinberg. With thanks to John T. Brooks from T&E.com, I found this interesting case. Max and Erla Feinberg created a trust with their substantial assets to care for their children and grandchildren. They placed a provision in the trust that if any of their five grandchildren married outside of the Jewish faith, unless their spouses converted to Judaism within one year of marriage, they were not to benefit from the trust at all. Only one of the five grandchildren actually married within the faith.

The numerous adversely affected parties sued, arguing that the “Jewish Clause” created an unconstitutional restraint on marriage, and should not be enforced by the court, because it violates public policy. In accordance with the majority of the cases that related to similar clauses in Wills and trusts throughout the country, the trustees argued that since the grandchildren were still able to marry many people, it was only a “partial restraint on marriage,” and the Clause should be enforced.

Both the trial court and the Illinois appeals court held that that the clause was unenforceable and violated public policy. They argued that even though the trend until recently has been to enforce such clauses because they are only “partial restraints” on marriage, since the authors of the Restatement (Third) of Trusts §29 (2003) approves breaking with that legal tradition and supports voiding any, even partial, restraint on marriage, they would do so as well.

Given the vociforous debate between the majority and dissenting opinions in this case, the Supreme Court of Illinois may hear the case. The case was on the Court’s 11/18/08 “Leave to Appeal” docket, but I can find no record regarding whether they have agreed to hear the case. Given that the current cases in the Illinois courts attempt to reverse the general trend that American courts have traditionally validated these “religion clauses,” it will be interesting to see whether the tide has turned, or whether the Illinois court is going to be the “odd man out” on this issue.

It would make sense for anyone making an estate plan, with or without a “religion clause,” to consult with an attorney who is competent in these matters and can advise you of the latest developments.

Picture courtesy of the ChicagoJewishNews.com

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