The Rule Against Perpetuities is a Real Killjoy

The SyFy show Killjoys had an legally complex property issue in the final episodes of the season: seventh generation descendants who lived on the very environmentally damaged moon Westerley would be deeded property, and thus could immigrate to the much nicer moon Leith, thanks to a deal by their ancestors.

Property rights on Earth do not take seven generations to vest. Every first year law student knows such a real property transfer would violate the Rule Against Perpetuities (RAP). The traditional definition of RAP states that, “No interest is good unless it must vest, if at all, not later than twenty-one years after the death of some life in being at the creation of the interest.” Black’s Law Dictionary App, 9th Edition.

California defines the Rule Against Perpetuities as follows:

A nonvested property interest is invalid unless one of the following conditions is satisfied:

(a)  When the interest is created, it is certain to vest or terminate no later than 21 years after the death of an individual then alive.

(b)  The interest either vests or terminates within 90 years after its creation.

Cal Prob Code § 21205.

The goal of Rule Against Perpetuities is simple: eliminate contingent interests in real property that could vest too remotely. Courts frown upon people willing property to a generation that would not exist for over a century. There is risk the rights would never vest, such as a genetic weapon going off killing everyone in a bloodline to prevent inheritance of the subject property.

Property rights vesting after seven generations would violate the Rule Against Perpetuities. A generation typical is viewed as 20 years. Human beings in good health can live well into their 90s. Granted, people on Westerley probably have shorter life spans, given acid rain that kills, the lack of proper medical care, and a highly dangerous community (i.e., you can get shot).

If we assume each generation on Westerley were having children every 25 years (time for a child to grow up, find a career, spouse, and have a child themselves), then approximately 150 to 175 years had passed since the first generation entered into the property agreement. Assuming the first generation lived to age 75 given the dangerous environment, 21 years after their death would not have seen a 7th generation come into existence. As such, the property rights would vest anywhere from 75 to 100 years after the death of the first generation. This would violate rights having to vest 21 years after the death of the original life in being.

It is apparent lawyers did not make the deep space trip to The Quad. There is no civil government, but The Company, comprised of nine “ruling” corporate owner families. This would be a horrible place to live. Killjoys is an unintended reminder that humanity is best served by governments colonizing planets, opposed to corporations that have very little interest in civil rights, constitutions, or property law.

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.