If you find it hard to remember how and when certain legal rules apply in a sequence, you can try pegging the application of those rules to a system that is more memorable and familiar to you. Here is an example from the area of trusts and estates. Let’s say that I want to remember that the Rule in Shelley’s Case and the Doctrine of Merger can apply sequentially in certain conveyances. I will illustrate it with the following hypothetical:
O deeds the property to A for life, then to A’s heirs. Describe the interests conveyed and retained in this transaction in a jurisdiction where the Rule in Shelley’s Case applies. (Most states have abolished the Rule in Shelley’s case by statute.)
In form, O intended to create a life estate in A and a contingent remainder in A’s heirs (it is contingent because living persons have no heirs). However, under the Rule in Shelley’s Case, the remainder interest that is created in favor of A’s heirs is deemed to be limited in favor of A. Therefore, A has both the life estate and the next vested remainder. At this juncture, the Doctrine of Merger applies, merging the life estate and the next vested estate to give A a fee simple absolute.
To help me remember the application of the Rule in Shelley’s Case and the Doctrine of Merger, I am going to invoke a traffic theme. Since the letter ‘A’ is often used in hypotheticals to refer to a grantee, I will call the application of the Doctrine of Merger after the operation of the Rule in Shelley’s Case the ‘AAA Rule’ after the well-known emergency road service:
A’s life estate + A’s vested remainder = A’s fee simple absolute.
I will also use the merging traffic sign to reinforce my recall of the Merger Doctrine and the fact that the Merger Doctrine applies only when A has both the life estate and the vested remainder that immediately follows the life estate (only two roads next to each other can merge).
Continuing with my traffic theme, I will also remember that the Rule in Shelley’s case is a rule of law just like a rule of the road, and not a rule of construction, and therefore, it applies even if the grantor intended otherwise.
In this example, I pegged less memorable legal rules and applications to familiar traffic concepts to assist my memory.