In property law and real estate, a future interest is a legal right to property ownership that does not include the right to present possession or enjoyment of the property. Future interests are created on the formation of a defeasible estate; that is, an estate with a condition or event triggering transfer of possessory ownership. A common example is the landlord-tenant relationship. The landlord may own a house, but has no general right to enter it while it is being rented. The conditions triggering the transfer of possession, first to the tenant then back to the landlord, are usually detailed in a lease.
As a slightly more complicated example, suppose O is the owner of Blackacre. Consider what happens when O transfers the property, "to A for life, then to B". Person A acquires possession of Blackacre. Person B does not receive any right to possess Blackacre immediately; however, once person A dies, possession will fall to person B (or his estate, if he died before person A). Person B has a future interest in the property. In this example, the event triggering the transfer is person A's death.
Because they convey ownership rights, future interests can usually be sold, gifted, willed, or otherwise disposed of by the beneficiary (but see Vesting below). Because the rights vest in the future, any such disposition will occur before the beneficiary actually takes possession of the property.
There are five kinds of future interests recognized at common law: three in the transferor and two in the transferee.
Vesting means granting a person an immediate right to present or future enjoyment of property. In plain English, one has a right to a vested asset that cannot be taken away by any third party, even though one may not yet possess the asset. When the right, interest or title to the present or future possession of a legal estate can be transferred by its holder to any other party, it is termed a vested interest with respect to that holder.
A vested interest may be one of three types:
A future interest is absolutely (or indefeasibly) vested if its beneficiary must (legally) eventually take possessory ownership.
A future interest is vested subject to divestment if something could occur that would divest the remainder of an interest. For example, "From O to A for life, then to B, but if A stops growing corn, then to C": B would have a vested remainder subject to divestment because he could be divested of his interest by an act of A before the interest becomes possessory.
A future interest is vested subject to open if it belongs to a class of beneficiaries, where that class can expand. A common example is a grant from O "to A's children", where A is a man: the class of A's children can't be closed until approximately thirty eight weeks after A dies, so any children alive at the time of the grant are vested subject to open. This interest is also sometimes referred to as being vested subject to partial divestment.
A person may divest themselves of, or alienate, only those interests that are guaranteed to vest. This rule aligns with the policy that a person should not be allowed to sell a thing that he or she does not own outright. Interests that are not guaranteed to vest are subject to the rule against perpetuities.