Writ of Escheat – allows a lord to take possession of lands that had reverted to him when a tenant dies without heirs

Writ of Escheat:

(17c.) Hist. A writ allowing a lord to take possession of lands that
had escheated to him. See ESCHEAT (1).”

Definition of Escheat:

n. (14c.) l. Hist. The reversion of land ownership back to the lord when the immediate tenant dies without heirs. 2. Reversion of property (esp. 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 under ESTATE (3). escheat, vb. -escheatable, adj.[1]

     Excerpt from George Crabb’s A History of English Law:

    “Escheat, from the French eschoir, to fall incidentally, was the casual descent of lands and tenements to the lord propter defectum sanguinis [for lack of inheritable blood], that is, when the tenant died without heirs; which was a part of the feudal system in every country.[2]

      Excerpt fromJames Kent’s Commentaries on American Law:

     “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. [3]

Definition of Estate:

“3. The property that one leaves after death; the collective assets and liabilities of a dead person.”

     Excerpt from G.C. Cheshire’s Modern Law of Real Property:

     “The word ‘estate’ was probably adopted because in early days it was possible to ascertain a man’s status or position in life by discovering the particular kind of tenure by which he held his lands.  The quality of his tenure gave a clue to his status.  The baron for example ought in theory to be the holder of a barony; he has the status of a baron because he has the estate of a baron. . . . [O]ne of the distinguishing marks of [the] freehold estates was the uncertainty of their duration.  They were invariably held either for life, or for some other space of time dependent upon an event which might not happen within a lifetime, and thus a freehold estate came to be regarded as one which involved the performance of free services only, but as one which endured for an uncertain time. In this way, the word ‘estate’ came to denote the quantity of a man’s interest in

Definition of Heirless Estate:

(1956) The property of a person who dies intestate & without heirs.”


[1]:  Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black & Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-62130-6

[2]:  George Crabb, A History of English Law 79 (1st Am. ed.

[3]: 4 James Kent, Commentaries on American Law *423-24
(George Comstock ed., 11th ed. 1866)

[4]: G.C. Cheshire, Modern Law of Real Property 26 (3d ed. 1933)