Law of the Dead Hand: Inheritance and Intergenerational Justice - LAWS6560

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2024 to 2025.


The law of inheritance (also known as succession) is a core area of legal and socio-economic practice enabling, and sometimes mandating, the transfer of wealth from one generation to another. Common law jurisdictions, such as England, Australia and America, are often described as upholding the principle of 'freedom of testation'. To the extent that testators’ intentions are given primacy over other considerations, such as provision for family members and dependents and other ‘public policies’, particularly in putting conditions on bequests, the more the dead can be understood as governing the living – as such, the law of inheritance is sometimes known as the law of the dead hand. This course provides a critical introduction to the law of inheritance and practices of ‘estate planning’. It will analyse the key legal structures involved in estate planning in English succession law, including the nature of wills, will formation, the use of trusts in wills, and the administration of estates; it will assess the problem of intestacy (dying without a will); it will critically evaluate the principle of ‘freedom of testation’ with regard the limitations placed on freedom of testation and comparative analysis with other jurisdictions; and it will evaluate the law and practice of estate planning through an introduction to the principles of taxation relevant to inheritance and the socio-economic implications of estate planning.


Contact hours

Total study hours: 300
Contact hours: 40
Private study hours: 260


All KLS undergraduate programmes

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods

The module will be assessed by 100% coursework comprising:

In-class assessment (30 mins. MCQs) – 10%
Short essay (2,500 words) – 30%
Long essay (5,000 words) – 60%

Reassessment methods

Like for like.

Indicative reading

• L.M. Friedman, Dead Hands: A Social History of Wills, Trusts, and Inheritance Law (Stanford University Press, 2009)
• J. Garton (ed.), Moffat's Trusts Law (6th ed., Cambridge University Press, 2015)
• B. Hacker and C. Mitchell (eds.), Current Issues in Succession Law (Hart Publishing, 2016)
• D. Halliday, Inheritance of Wealth: Justice, Equality, and the Right to Bequeath (Oxford University Press, 2018)
• J.E. Hughes, Family Wealth: Keeping It in the Family (Bloomberg Press, 2004)
• R. Kerridge, Parry and Kerridge: The Law of Succession (13th ed., Sweet & Maxwell, 2016)
• B. Sloan, Borkowski's Law of Succession (3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2017)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module, students will be able to:

1. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge and understanding of the concepts, doctrines and principles associated with the law of inheritance;
2. Demonstrate a critical awareness of, and sensitivity to, the political, economic and/or social implications that arise from different
Inheritance practices across international jurisdictions;
3. Critically identify the theoretical and policy underpinnings of the law of inheritance and critically evaluate legal practices of estate planning;
4. Critically evaluate inheritance law: to take nothing at face value, to go beneath the surface of the law to critically analyse and evaluate it.

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module, students will be able to:

1. Critically evaluate an area of law both doctrinally and in terms of its socio-economic consequences;
2. Undertake a detailed examination of the merits of competing issues and interests and make a reasoned choice between them;
3. Apply further research from a variety of sources informing a sustained and detailed argument;
4. Demonstrate an independence of mind and an ability to critically challenge received understandings and conclusions.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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