The Richmond Register

February 3, 2013

The case of the marital zinger

You be the judge

By Jack Strauss
Register Columnist

BEREA — Morris had more faith in his religion than he had in his three sons, Tom, Dick and Mergatroy.

Consequently, when he died, his will revealed that while he had named his three sons as equal beneficiaries of his estate, he tacked on a “zinger.”

To be eligible to collect their inheritance, Morris’ will required his three sons – within seven years after his death – to marry girls of the same religious faith as Morris.

Accepting their father’s death more gracefully than his will, Morris’ sons attacked the validity of the “zinger” paragraph in court.

“There’s nothing wrong with it,” insisted the executor of the estate. “Since Morris believed in his religion, he wanted to encourage it’s preservation. As for requiring his sons to get married in seven years, it was his feeling that if they were going to enjoy the chase – he wanted to make sure they ate the game.”

“The whole thing’s ridiculous.” protested Morris’ sons. “Requiring us to marry girls of a particular faith is a restraint upon marriage and against public policy. Furthermore, it’s pure blackmail to force us to marry within seven years – so that’s against public policy also. No man should be forced to get married if he doesn’t want to.”

IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE, would you uphold the validity of the “zinger” paragraph in Morris’ will?

This is how the judge ruled: YES! The judge held that the great weight of authority in the United States is that a bequest in a will requiring a beneficiary to marry within a particular religious class – to encourage it’s preservation – is reasonable. As for the claim of blackmail concluded the judge, seven years seems to be a most reasonable grace period – with ample opportunity for exhaustive reflection and fulfillment without constraint or oppression – in which to find a wife.

(Based upon a 1974 Ohio Court Common Pleas Decision)

Jack Strauss, a retired New York City trial attorney who now resides in Berea, wrote a syndicated column for 36 years called, “What’s the Law?” It appeared in papers coast to coast, including the Pittsburgh Press, the Los Angeles Examiner, the Hartford Times, the Kansas City Star and the Philadelphia Daily News, among many others. It appears here with his permission.

Copyright, 1978 United Feature Syndicate. Inc.