By Raley L. Wiggins | Attorney at Law | Red Oak Legal, PC
Rarely in life are we presented with absolute truths. But, when it comes to the proper protocol for keeping monsters, boogeymen, and Things that Go Bump in the Night at bay, all children know the fundamental rules. With Halloween upon us, our adult readers should take advantage of this opportunity to refresh your memory regarding those rules:
- Rule Number One: Monsters are terrified of light. Keeping sufficient light in one’s bedroom is a guarantee of safety. In a pinch, a night-light will due—albeit with limited protection.
- Rule Number Two: Bed sheets and comforters create an impenetrable shield against night-time monsters. Ducking one’s head under the covers is a sure-fire way to achieve the maximum level of protection.
- Rule Number Three: Never, ever, look under the bed under any circumstances. The area under the bed is a no-man’s land which belongs entirely to the Things that Go Bump in the Night.
- Rule Number Four: Never dangle one’s legs off the edge of the bed after 8:00 p.m. This is merely an invitation for the Things that Go Bump in the Night to snatch you from the safety of your bed, and drag you into the aforementioned no-man’s land. (See Rule Number Three). In fact, best practice is to get a running start and then leap onto the bed from a distance (and under the impenetrable shield of the comforter) in order to minimize the amount of time that your exposed ankles are precariously within reach of the creatures occupying no-man’s land.
As adults, we are beyond the childhood fears of our darkened bedrooms. But, there is another spooky threat waiting for us, emerging from the depths of our most mundane, even (dare I say) boring estate planning documents.
The Dead Hand.
The dead hand is a term attributed to Arthur Hobhouse over a century ago to describe the problem that occurs when someone attempts to control his or her estate for too long after death. During life, an individual can use his or her wealth to influence the behavior of their loved ones. However, some wish to continue to influence our heirs’ behavior even after we are gone. The question is how much control should that person be able to exert—with a dead hand, reaching from the grave—over their heirs.
In Hobhouse’s opinion, an individual who subjects their heirs to the “cold and numbing influence of the dead hand” hasn’t done their heirs any favors. As he stated: “[P]eople are the best judges of their own concerns; or if they are not, that it is better for them, on moral grounds, that they should manage their own concerns for themselves, and that it cannot be wrong continually to claim this liberty for every Generation of mortal men.”
Carrots and sticks have been and will continue to be a part of estate planning. Often, there are good and compelling reasons to use one’s estate to try to encourage behavior in your heirs that you would approve of. However, those goals must be balanced with the realities of life. Even the most comprehensive estate plan cannot anticipate every contingency, every emergency.
As a result, it’s important to limit the dead hand control over your estate such that your heirs will not be left to suffer the consequences of your overzealous planning. As much as we may want to, we can’t control the lives of our children or grandchildren forever. At some point, they must make some mistakes for themselves.
Even the cold, dead, hand reaching from beyond the grave must eventually let go.
But until then, Happy Halloween!
 Arthur Hobhouse, The Dead Hand, 188, 183-185 (1880).