Estate planning is a crucial aspect of financial management, aiming to ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes after you pass away. One of the tools available to achieve this goal is the spendthrift provision, a clause in a trust or will designed to protect the assets from both the beneficiary’s potential mismanagement and their creditors. This blog post will delve into the intricacies of spendthrift provisions, providing a comprehensive guide to help you understand how they work and how they can be utilized in your estate plan.

What is a Spendthrift Provision?

A spendthrift provision is a clause included in a trust or will that restricts the beneficiary’s access to the assets and safeguards the assets from the beneficiary’s creditors. This type of provision ensures that the assets are used for the beneficiary’s welfare and essential needs rather than being squandered or seized to pay off debts. The inclusion of a spendthrift provision creates a legal barrier, preventing creditors from attaching prior debts against the inheritance and restricting the beneficiary from acquiring debt based on the future inheritance.

Legal Framework and Validity:

In the District of Columbia, the legal framework governing spendthrift provisions is outlined in § 19–1305 of the Code. It is crucial to ensure that the spendthrift provision is valid and enforceable. To achieve this, the provision must restrain both voluntary and involuntary transfers of the beneficiary’s interest. This means that the beneficiary cannot willingly give away their interest, nor can creditors forcibly take it to settle debts. When the assets are held within the trust, they are protected; however, once they are distributed to the beneficiary, they become vulnerable to creditors’ claims.

A Real-Life Illustration:

To better understand how a spendthrift provision operates, consider the following example. A parent establishes a trust with a spendthrift provision, naming their child as the sole beneficiary. Unfortunately, the parent passes away, leaving the trust assets to the child. The child, unknown to the parent, has a severe issue with managing money, consistently making poor investment choices and accumulating substantial debts. The inclusion of a spendthrift provision ensures that creditors cannot access the assets within the trust to settle the child’s debts. However, once the assets are distributed from the trust to the child, they are at risk, and creditors can pursue them to satisfy the debts. Additionally, the child cannot use the trust’s assets as collateral for loans or other financial ventures.

Exceptions to the Rule:

While spendthrift provisions offer a robust level of protection, it is important to note that there are exceptions. One such exception is outlined in § 19–1305.03(b), which addresses the issue of child support and maintenance. If a beneficiary is required to make payments for child support or maintenance, the spendthrift provision cannot be used to evade these responsibilities. This exception ensures that the beneficiary’s legal obligations to their dependents are met, maintaining the integrity of the spendthrift provision while upholding the beneficiary’s responsibilities.


Spendthrift provisions serve as a valuable tool in estate planning, offering a layer of protection to your assets and ensuring they are used in the best interests of your beneficiaries. By restricting access and safeguarding the assets from creditors, spendthrift provisions help preserve your legacy and provide for your loved ones in the manner you intend. It is crucial to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to craft a valid and enforceable spendthrift provision, tailoring it to your unique circumstances and ensuring that your assets are protected for future generations. With the right guidance and careful planning, a spendthrift provision can provide peace of mind and financial security for your beneficiaries, safeguarding your legacy and their future.