Conferring rights on an intended beneficiary is relatively simple. Whether his rights can be modified or extinguished by subsequent agreement of the promisor and promisee is a more troublesome issue. The general rule is that the beneficiary’s rights may be altered as long as there has been novesting of rights (the rights have not taken effect). The time at which the beneficiary’s rights vest differs among jurisdictions: some say immediately, some say when the beneficiary assents to the receipt of the contract right, some say the beneficiary’s rights don’t vest until she has detrimentally relied on the right. The Restatement says that unless the contract provides that its terms cannot be changed without the beneficiary’s consent, the parties may change or rescind the benefit unless the beneficiary has sued on the promise, has detrimentally relied, or has assented to the promise at the request of one of the parties. 1 Some contracts provide that the benefit never vests; for example, standard insurance policies today reserve to the insured the right to substitute beneficiaries, to borrow against the policy, to assign it, and to surrender it for cash.
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Modification of the Beneficiary’s Rights