freedom of disposition

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Freedom of disposition is the dominant principle of trusts and estates law which advocates that the law should grant people freedom to dispose of their property in any way they want once they pass away. Two schools of thought surround this theory: 

  • The less popular view is that the freedom of disposition is a natural right and should not be constrained by the law in any way. 
  • The more common view is that freedom of disposition is a political right and is subject to some constraint.

There are several justifications for the existence of freedom of disposition. 

  • First, the ability to pass on wealth to friends and family members creates incentive for individuals to be productive during their lifetime. 
  • Second, some experts argue that freedom of disposition creates social utility because it is highly desired by a large number of people. 
  • Finally, freedom of disposition provides a means of repaying past social services performed by others during the giver’s lifetime. 

Regardless of which justifications are prevailing, freedom of disposition is permitted in the United States with very few restraints. 

The typical way a person exercises their freedom of disposition is through a will. That said, parties named in a will are free to disclaim their inheritance, providing one restriction on the decedent’s freedom of disposition. 

[Last updated in January of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]