Law School Case Brief
Feinberg v. Feinberg (In re Estate of Feinberg) - 235 Ill. 2d 256, 335 Ill. Dec. 863, 919 N.E.2d 888 (2009)
Findings on whether a provision in a trust document or will are void as a matter of public policy are subject to de novo review because public policy is necessarily a question of law. This conclusion is consistent with the well-established principle that whether a provision in a contract, insurance policy, or other agreement is invalid because it violates public policy is a question of law, which is reviewed de novo.
A grandfather executed a will and created a trust, which was later altered by the grandmother under a testamentary power of appointment. There was a beneficiary restriction clause in the trust that prohibited his grandchildren from inheriting if they did not marry into the Jewish faith or their spouse did not convert to Judaism within one year of marriage. The court of appeals upheld a trial court's decision that the clause at issue violated public policy.
Was the beneficiary restriction clause in the trust that prohibited the grandchildren from inheriting if they did not marry into the Jewish faith or their spouse did not convert to Judaism within one year of marriage unenforceable as a violation of public policy?
In reversing, the supreme court determined that the public policy of Illinois valued freedom of testation, as demonstrated by several statutes. The beneficiary restriction clause did not implicate the principle that trust provisions that encouraged divorce violated public policy; rather, this case involved a decision to marry. The grandchildren did not receive a vested interest in the trust upon the death of the grandfather because the terms of the trust were subject to change until the grandmother's death. Since no grandchild had a vested interest in the trust assets and because the distribution plan adopted by the grandmother had no prospective application, there was no violation of public policy.
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