escheat – the right of the state to take title to property after the death of a person who has not disposed of the property by will and has left no heirs to inherit it

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escheat:
(14c) n.

1. Hist. The reversion of land ownership back to the lord when the immediate tenant dies without heirs.  See WRIT OF ESCHEAT.

2. Reversion of property (especially real property) to the state upon the death of an owner who has neither a will nor any legal heirs.

3. Property that has so reverted.  See heirless estate. — escheat, vb. — escheatable, adj. [1]

1. An obstruction of the course of descent by chance or accident. 27 Am J2d Each § 1.

The preferable right of the state to an estate left vacant because of the absence of persons legally entitled to make claim thereto. University of North Carolina v High Point, 203 NC 558, 166 SE 511.

The reversion of property to the state when the title fails. Delancy v State, 42 ND 630 174 NW 290.

The state does not take as an heir; escheat is not succession. 27 Am J2d Esch § 1.

A word deriving from the French or Norman French which, in its most comprehensive scope, means he reversion or forfeiture of property to the government upon the happening of some chance event or default. 27 Am J2d Esch § 1.

In England, real estate escheats, but he Crown takes personal property, where there is no owner, that is bona vacantis. 27 Am J2d Esch § 1. [2]

1. The right of the state to take title to property after the death of a person who has not disposed of the property by will and has left no heirs to inherit it. [3]

     Excerpt from George Crabb’s A History of English Law 79 (1st Am. ed. 1831):

     “Escheat, from the French eschoir, to fail incidentally, was the casual descent of lands and tenements to the lord propter defectum sangulnis [for lack of inheritable blood], that is, when the tenant dies without heirs; which was a part of the feudal system in every country.” [4]

     Excerpt from 4 James Kent’s Commentaries on American Law *423-24 (George Cornstock ed., 11th ed. 1866):

     “All escheats, under the English law, are declared to be strictly feudal, and to import the extinction of tenure….  The rule [was] that if lands were held in trust and the cestui que trust without heirs, the lands did not escheat to the crown, but the trustee, being in esse and in the legal seisin of the land, took the land discharged of the trust, and bound as owner for the feudal services.  But as the feudal tenures do not exist in this country, there are no private persons who succeed to the inheritance by escheat; and the state steps in the place of the feudal lord, by virtue of its sovereignty, as the original and ultimate proprietor of all the lands within its jurisdiction.” [5]

References:

Disclaimer: All material throughout this website is compiled in accordance with Fair Use.

[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black, Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-61300-4

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations Third Edition by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[3]:  Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition
by Jack Ballantine 
(James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[4]: George Crabb’s A History of English Law 79 (1st Am. ed. 1831)

[5]: 4 James Kent’s Commentaries on American Law *423-24 (George Cornstock ed., 11th ed. 1866)

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