Law of the Dead Hand: Inheritance and Intergenerational Justice - LW656

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
Canterbury Autumn and Spring
View Timetable
6 30 (15)


LW316/5316/324 Foundations of Property.


Not available to non-law students.



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

40 hours.

Method of assessment

100% coursework consisting of an in-class assessment and 2 essays.

Indicative reading

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module, students will be able to:

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

University of Kent makes every effort to ensure that module information is accurate for the relevant academic session and to provide educational services as described. However, courses, services and other matters may be subject to change. Please read our full disclaimer.