Emory Law Journal


Adam J. Hirsch


Under current law, bequests to beneficiaries who predecease the testator “lapse” to the beneficiary of the residuary, unless they are preserved for the descendants of predeceased beneficiaries under an “antilapse” statute. The beneficiaries covered by antilapse statutes vary from state to state, but in most states today the statutes apply only to blood relatives of the testator as distant as first cousins. This Article examines the public policy of antilapse statutes, assessing them by undertaking the first-ever survey of popular preferences concerning the matter. Harvesting evidence for five types of beneficiaries, the study finds that the prevailing structure of antilapse statutes is both over- and under-inclusive. On one hand, among beneficiaries who comprise blood relatives, most respondents prefer to create substitute bequests only for descendants of predeceased children. Lawmakers should strike other relatives from the statutes’ coverage. On the other hand, most respondents would create substitute bequests for their descendants if their spouse predeceased them. Lawmakers should extend the range of the statutes accordingly. Finally, this Article advocates enhancing courts’ power to deviate from mechanical rules of lapse in situations where testamentary intent is less predictable.