There is one common law rule that haunts most law students, and many legal practitioners: “no interest is good unless it must vest, if at all, not later than twenty-one years after some life in being at the creation of the interest.” This rule, known as the rule against perpetuities, has many applications, but, most importantly, it limits the duration that an irrevocable trust may remain in existence. This rule was initially adopted in an effort to limit dead-hand control over property by requiring property to vest in a beneficiary within a certain period of time.
Generally, at common law, an irrevocable trust could remain in existence for a period of time not exceeding 21 years after the death of all members of a particular class of persons who were alive at the time the perpetuities period began. For an irrevocable trust, generally, the perpetuities period will begin on the date the trust was created. While some states, such as New York, continue to follow the common law rule, a number of states, such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and South Dakota, have completely abrogated the rule, while others have extended the period of time that an irrevocable trust may remain in existence, such as Connecticut (which applies an 800 year period in gross) and Florida (which applies a 1,000 year period in gross).