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What Does the Term “Dead Hand” Control of Money Mean?

Depending upon the requirements imposed, it's often not a pleasant way to live. Many intended beneficiaries often seek to get courts to modify the terms under which they can inherit – often with limited success.                                                                                                                          Overall, courts want to uphold a testator’s/settlor’s requirements – unless they clearly run afoul of basic public policy or are amoral.                                                                                         One common argument often raised by an intended beneficiary has to do with substantial changes that have occurred in the person’s life since the deceased tried to create the gift. The complaining person argues that if the person who wanted to make the gift were alive now and were aware of the new circumstances, he or she would modify some or all of the requirements.

Other Important Factors Involved with Imposing Conditions on Beneficiaries

  • What is a valid condition for a gift to be made? These can include requiring the donee to: (1) finish a specific academic degree within a reasonable amount of time, (2) continue working for the donee’s current employer (often a family member) for a certain number of years, or (3) to refrain from certain activities known to cause serious health problems.
  • What are possible invalid conditions? (1) To commit any type of crime, (2) to refrain from getting married, (3) to avoid joining a specific religious group, (4) to require someone to initiate legal separation or divorce from a spouse -- or to abandon all support obligations to a dependent child.

When “Dead Hand” Control Can Be Positive for Some Donees

                 Many young people who lack a sense of direction in life can benefit from older relatives or mentors wanting to invest in their lives – if reasonable restrictions on life activities are observed. Requiring young men or women to complete certain academic or professional training programs within certain time constraints can be very positive motivators – especially if the young people are provided with enough flexibility to choose highly desirous forms of gainful employment.

            If you’re wanting to help a young person – or even an older relative (or friend) in this manner, always consult with a Peachtree City attorney in advance to learn about the best possible way to structure your gift – and be sure to provide for a back-up beneficiary should your first choice decline your gift.

To obtain help with satisfying all of your Georgia estate planning needs, please contact the Law Offices of Shane Smith today.  You can schedule your free initial consultation with a knowledgeable Peachtree City estate planning attorney by calling: (770) 487-8999.


Shane Smith
Advocate for the Seriously Injured in Georgia