Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Testamentary Instructions and The Federal Arbitration Act

Horton, david David Horton (Professor of Law, Loyola Law School) recently published his article entitled The Federal Arbitration Act and Testamentary Instructions, North Carolina L. Rev. (forthcoming). The abstract available on SSRN is below:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s expansion of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) has made arbitration clauses ubiquitous in consumer and employment contracts, and provoked heated debate. Recently, though, arbitration clauses have become common in a different context: wills and trusts. Courts have reached wildly different conclusions about whether these provisions are enforceable under state arbitration law. However, no judge, scholar, or litigant has considered the more important question of whether the FAA governs these terms. In this Article, I fill that gap. I first examine the statute’s text and legislative history, and conclude that Congress intended the FAA only to govern “contracts.” Nevertheless, I show that the Court has stretched the definition of “contract” for the purposes of the FAA. Indeed, the Court has predicated arbitration on the mere fact that the parties have entered into a consensual relationship, even if it does not meet the test for contractual validity. I then argue that estate plans, which arise from mutual assent and feature elements of exchange, are “contracts” under the FAA. Finally, I analyze how some of the most challenging features of the Court’s interpretation of the FAA - including the non-arbitrability doctrine, the separability rule, and the statute’s preemptive ambit - would play out in the field of wills and trusts. By doing so, I seek not only to provide guidance for courts and policymakers, but to illustrate that testamentary arbitration may not suffer from some of the flaws that make contractual arbitration so polarizing.


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