views updated May 21 2018


The degree, quantity, nature, and extent of interest that a person has in real andpersonal property. Such terms as estate in land, tenement, and hereditaments may also be used to describe an individual's interest in property.

When used in connection with probate proceedings, the term encompasses the total property that is owned by a decedent prior to the distribution of that property in accordance with the terms of a will, or when there is no will, by the laws of inheritance in the state of domicile of the decedent. It means, ordinarily, the whole of the property owned by anyone, the realty as well as the personalty.

In its broadest sense, the social, civic, or political condition or standing of a person; or, a class of persons grouped for social, civic, or political purposes.

There are several types of estates that govern interests in real property. They are freehold estates, nonfreehold estates, concurrent estates, specialty estates, future interests, and incorporeal interests.

Freehold Estates

A freehold estate is a right of title to land that is characterized by two essential elements: immobility, meaning that the property involved is either land or an interest that is attached to or has been derived from land, and indeterminate duration, which means there is no fixed duration of ownership.

There are three kinds of freehold estates: a fee simple, a fee tail, and a life estate.

Fee Simple Absolute A fee simple absolute is the most extensive interest in real property that an individual can possess, since it is limited completely to the individual and his or her heirs and assigns forever, and it is not subject to any limitations or conditions.

For example, an individual might purchase a plot of land for which the deed states that the grantor transfers the property "to grantee and his or her heirs," which would have the legal effect of creating a fee simple absolute. The grantee has the right to immediate and exclusive possession of the land, and he or she can do whatever he or she wants with it, such as grow crops, remove trees, build on it, sell it, or dispose of it by will. This type of estate is deemed to be perpetual. Upon the death of the owner, if no provision has been made for its distribution, the land will automatically be inherited by the owner's heirs.

Fee Simple Determinable A fee simple determinable, which is also referred to as a base fee or qualified fee, is one that continues until the occurrence of a specified event. When such an event occurs, the estate will terminate automatically by operation of law, at which time the ownership reverts to the grantor or his or her heirs.

For example, a grantor makes the following conveyance: "To grantee and his or her heirs so long as it is used for school purposes." The grantor's intent is clearly indicated when he or she creates the estate. When the grantee ceases to use the land for school purposes, the grantor has the right to immediate possession. The grantee's estate is restricted to the period during which the land is used for school purposes.

The interest of the grantor is known as a possibility of reverter. Ordinarily the words until or as long as indicate the creation of a special limitation.

Fee Simple Subject to a Condition Subsequent A fee simple subject to a condition subsequent is an estate that terminates only upon the exercise of the power of termination, or right of reentry, for the violation of a particular condition. It differs from a fee simple determinable in that the latter expires automatically, by operation of law, upon the happening of the event specified. A fee simple subject to a condition subsequent continues even after the occurrence of the event until the grantor divests the estate or ends it through the exercise of his or her power to terminate.

For example, the grantor conveys land "to grantee and his or her heirs, but if the premises are used for commercial purposes other than the sale of antiques, then the grantor has the right to reenter and repossess the property."

The grantor has the power to end the grantee's fee through his or her reentry onto the premises if the condition is violated. Reentry, however, is totally at the option of the grantor. The grantee's estate continues until the grantor either enters the land or brings an action to recover possession. When the grantor does reenter the land, the remaining portion of the grantee's estate is forfeited.

Ordinarily, the words used in conveyance to create an estate subject to a condition subsequent are upon condition that, provided that, or but if, together with a provision for reentry by the grantor.

Fee Simple Subject to Executory Limitation At English common law, a grantor was not able to create a freehold estate that was to begin in futuro, at a subsequent time, because livery of seisin (actual possession) was essential. If actual possession of the land was given to the grantee, the estate would be immediately effective, contrary to the grantor's intent. The only manner in which an estate that was to begin in the future could be created was through the use of a remainder. For example, if a grantor wished to give the grantee a future interest in the land, he might make the following conveyance,"to transferee for life, remainder to grantee and his or her heirs." Livery of seisin was thereby made to the transferee, who held the estate for life, and upon the transferee's death the seisin passed to the grantee.

In 1535, however, the statute of uses was passed, which allowed the creation, by deed, of springing interests, or executory interests. A grantor could, thereby, give the grantee a present right to the future interest in the land. The grantor might, for example, convey the land "to grantee and his heirs, grantee's interest to commence five years from the date of the deed."

A grantor can also convey an estate subject to a shifting interest. For example, the grantor might make the following conveyance: "To grantee and his or her heirs, but in the event that grantee dies without issue upon his or her death, then to transferee and his or her heirs." The grantee is thereby given a fee simple subject to an executory limitation, which is the interest of the transferee.

Fee Tail A fee tail is an estate subject to limitations concerning who may inherit the property, which is ordinarily created by a deed or a will.

Two significant historical developments were instrumental in the creation of this type of freehold estate. The first was recognition by the court of the fee simple conditional, and the second was the passing of the Statute De Donis Conditionalibus, commonly known as the Statute De Donis, in 1285 by Parliament.

Prior to 1285, the provision "to grantee and the heirs of his body" was interpreted by the courts as providing the grantee with the power to convey a fee simple in the property if and when he sired a child. An estate of this nature was referred to as a fee simple conditional, since it was a fee simple contingent upon offspring being born to the grantee. The grantee was thereby able to terminate any rights that the heirs of his body might have in the land. In addition, he was able to terminate the possibility of reverter which the grantor had in the land.

The Statute De Donis was subsequently passed in order to keep family land in a family, provided there was a family or issue. A grantee could not convey land in such manner as to terminate the right of heirs of his body to inherit the land upon his death nor could he convey so as to terminate the grantor's reversionary interest. If the grantee conveyed property "to transferee and his heirs," and then died, leaving a child, the child could take the land from the transferee. If the grantee died with no surviving heirs of the body, the grantor could take the land away from the transferee.

The grantor of a fee tail was permitted to limit the inheritance to a specific group of lineal descendants of the grantee. He could create a fee tail general, for example, to transferee and "the heirs of his body begotten," regardless of the number of wives by whom the transferee had children. Alternatively, he could create a fee tail special, to transferee and "the heirs of his body on Ann, his now wife, to be begotten," which specifies that only issue of the marriage of the transferee and Ann, and no other marriage, could inherit. A grant to a man and his male bodily heirs, for example, created a fee tail male while a fee tail female restricted transfer of land to the transferee and the female heirs of his or her body only.

Life Estate A life estate is an interest in property that does not amount to ownership, since it is limited by a term of life, either of the individual in whom the right is vested or some other person. It may also last only until the occurrence or nonoccurrence of an uncertain event. A life estate pur autre vie is an estate that the grantee holds for the life of another person.

A life estate is generally created by deed but can be created by lease. No special language is required provided the grantor's intent to create such an estate is clear. The grantee of a life estate is called the life tenant.

A life tenant can use the land, take any fruits stemming from the land (i.e., crops), and dispose of his or her interest to another person. The power to dispose includes the right to mortgage the property, and to create liens, easements,or other rights in the property, provided they do not extend beyond the period of the tenant's life.

The holder of a life estate cannot do anything that would injure the property or cause waste, or in any way interfere with the reversionary interest of the grantee. The life tenant has the right to exclusive possession subject to the rights of the grantor to (1) enter the property to ascertain whether or not waste has been committed or is in the process of being committed; (2) collect any rent that is due; (3) come upon the property to make any necessary repairs; (4) move timber that has been severed and belongs to him or her; and (5) do any acts that will prevent the termination of his or her reversion.

The life tenant is permitted to use the property in the same manner as the owner of a fee simple, except that he or she must leave the property in reasonably good condition for the individual who will succeed to the possession. The life tenant has an obligation to maintain the property in good repair and must pay taxes and interest on any mortgage on the premises when the life estate begins. The life tenant has the right to the issues and profits from the land, and any crop planted prior to the termination of the life estate can be harvested by the tenant's personal representative. In addition, any fixtures placed on the ground by the tenant can be removed by him or her. If the property is harmed, the life tenant can obtain a recovery for the injury to his or her interest.

In a typical life estate for the life of an individual other than the tenant, the grantor conveys the property "to grantee for the life of A." The grantee is thereby given an estate for the life span of another person. In this type of conveyance, A is the measuring life. At common law, if the grantee died before the individual whose life measured the estate, the property was regarded as being without an owner. The first individual to obtain possession, known as the common occupant, was entitled to the estate until the death of the person whose life measured the duration of the estate. An estate pur autre vie could not be inherited by the heirs of the deceased grantee, nor could it be reclaimed by the grantor since he or she had conveyed his or her interest for the life of another person who was still living. No one had the right to evict the common occupant.

Some grantors made conveyances that provided for the heirs of the grantee. For example, "to grantee and his heirs for the life of A." If the grantee died during A's lifetime, an heir of the grantee would take as a special occupant rather than by descent. Some modern statutes have made the property interest between the death of the grantee and the measuring life a chattel real, making the provision that the grantee's personal representative takes the property as personal property.

A life estate is alienable, and therefore, the life tenant can convey his or her estate. The grantee of the life tenant would thereby be given an estate pur autre vie. The life tenant is unable, however, to convey an estate that is greater than his or her own.

Nonfreehold Estates

Nonfreehold estates are interests in real property without seisin and which are not inheritable. The four main types of nonfreehold estates are an estate for years, an estate from year to year, a tenancy at will, and a tenancy at sufferance.

Estate for Years The most significant feature of an estate for years is that it must be of definite duration, that is, it is required to have a definite beginning and a definite ending. The most common example of an estate for years is the arrangement existing between a landlord and tenant whereby property is leased or rented for a specific amount of time. In this type of estate the transferor leases the property to the transferee for a certain designated period, for example: "Transferor leases Blackacre to transferee for the period of January 1, 1998, to January 1, 2003, a period of five years."

During the five-year period, the transferee has the right to possess Blackacre and use and enjoy the fruits that stem from it. He or she is required to pay rent according to the terms of the rental agreement and is not permitted to commit waste on the premises. If the transferee dies during the term of the lease, the remainder of such term will pass to the transferee's personal representative for distribution pursuant to a will or the laws of descent and distribution, since a leasehold interest is regarded as personal property or a chattel real.

Estate from Year to Year The essential distinguishing characteristic of an estate from year to year is that it is of indefinite duration. For example, a landlord might lease Blackacre to a tenant for a two-year period, from January 1, 2003, to January 1, 2005, at a rental of $600 per month, payable in advance on or before the ninth day of each month. The tenant might hold possession beyond January 1, 2005, and on or before January 9, 2005, give the landlord $600. If the landlord accepts the rent, the tenant has thereby been made a tenant from year to year. An estate of this nature continues indefinitely until one of the parties gives notice of termination. The terms of the original lease are implied to carry over to the year-to-year lease, except for the term that set forth the period of the lease.

Notice of termination is an important component of this type of periodic tenancy. In the preceding example, either party would be able to terminate the tenancy by providing notice at least six months preceding the end of the yearly period. Statutory provisions often abridge the length of notice required to end periodic tenancies. Such tenancies may come within requirements set forth by the statute of frauds.

Tenancy at Will A tenancy at will is a rental relationship between two parties that is of indefinite duration, since either may end the relationship at any time. It can be created either by agreement, or by failure to effectively create a tenancy for years.

A tenancy at will is terminated by either individual without notice and ends automatically by the death of either party or by the commission of voluntary waste by the lessee. It is not assignable and is categorized as the lowest type of chattel interest in land.

Tenancy at Sufferance A tenancy at sufferance is an estate that ordinarily arises when a tenant for years or a tenant from period to period retains possession of the premises without the landlord's consent. This type of interest is regarded as naked and wrongful possession.

In this type of estate, the tenant is essentially a trespasser except that his or her original entry onto the property was not wrongful. If the landlord consents, a tenant at sufferance may be transformed into a tenant from period to period, upon acceptance of rent.

Concurrent Estates

Concurrent estates are those that are either owned or possessed by two or more individuals simultaneously. The three most common types of concurrent estates are joint tenancy, tenancy by the entirety, and tenancy in common.

Joint Tenancy A joint tenancy is a type of concurrent ownership whereby property is acquired by two or more persons at the same time and by the same instrument. A typical conveyance of such a tenancy would be "Grantor conveys Blackacre to A, B, and C and their heirs in fee simple absolute." The main feature of a joint tenancy is the right of survivorship.If any one of the joint tenants dies, the remainder goes to the survivors, and the entire estate goes to the last survivor.

In a joint tenancy, there are four unities, those of interest, time, title, and possession.

Unity of interest means that each joint tenant owns an undivided interest in the property as a whole. No one joint tenant can have a larger share than any of the others.

Unity of time signifies that the estates of each of the joint tenants is vested for exactly the same period.

Unity of title indicates that the joint tenants hold their property under the same title.

Unity of possession requires that each of the joint tenants must take the same undivided possession of the property as a whole and enjoy the same rights until one of the joint tenants dies.

Tenancy by the Entirety A tenancy by the entirety is a form of joint tenancy arising between a husband and wife,whereby each spouse owns the undivided whole of the property, with the right of survivorship.

A tenancy by the entirety can be created by will or deed but not by descent and distribution. It is distinguishable from a joint tenancy in that neither party can voluntarily dispose of his or her interest in the property. There is unity of title, possession, interest, time, and person.

Tenancy in Common A tenancy in common is a form of concurrent ownership that can be created by deed or will, or by operation of law, in which two or more individuals possess property simultaneously. A typical conveyance of this type of tenancy would be "Grantor, owner of Blackacre in fee simple absolute, grants to A, B, and C, and their heirs—each taking one-third interest in the property."

In the preceding illustration, A, B, and C are tenants in common. There is no right of survivorship in such a tenancy, and each grantee has the right to dispose of his or her share by deed or by will.

In a tenancy in common, one of the tenants may have a larger share of the property than the others. In addition, the tenants in common may take the same property by several titles. The only unity present in a tenancy in common is unity of possession.

Future Interests

Future interests are interests in real or personal property, a gift or trust, or other things in

which the privilege of possession or of enjoyment is in the future and not the present. They are interests that will come into being at a future point in time. There are five classes of future interests: reversions; possibilities of reverter; powers of termination, also known as rights of reentry for condition broken; remainders, and executory interests.

Incorporeal Interests

Incorporeal interests in real property are those that cannot be possessed physically, since they consist of rights of a particular user, or the right to enforce an agreement concerning use. The five major types of incorporeal interests are easements; profits; covenants running with the land; equitable servitudes; and licenses.

further readings

Abts, Henry W. 2002. The Living Trust: The Failproof Way to Pass Along Your Estate to Your Heirs. 3d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Applegate, E. Timothy. 2003. "Estate Planning: Who Owns the Family Plot?" California Lawyer 23 (October).


Equity; Servitude.


views updated May 23 2018

estate A social stratum to which are attached specific rights and duties sustained by the force of legal sanction. The most obvious examples are the peasants, serfs, burghers, clergy, and nobility of the post-feudal states of continental Europe. For example, early-modern France distinguished the nobles, clergy, and the ‘Third Estate’ until the late eighteenth century. The term is often (though controversially) applied to the system of stratification in feudal Europe, since feudal strata were characterized more by personal bonds of vassalage, rather than shared political rights and obligations. It should be noted, for example, that the distinguished historian of feudalism Marc Bloch refers to the strata of the feudal order as ‘classes’.

Estate systems of stratification are rigid in their prescription of economic duties, political rights, and social convention, although typically they are not closed to social mobility. Unlike in caste systems, the estate does not necessarily renew itself from within: the clergy in pre-revolutionary France, for example, was an ‘open estate’.

Sociological usage of the term dates back to Ferdinand Tönnies's distinction between estates and classes (or ‘communal’ and ‘societal’ collectivities). In Economy and Society (1922) Max Weber cites the estates of medieval Europe as paradigmatic examples of status groups. In the same vein, T. H. Marshall defined an estate as ‘a group of people having the same status, in the sense in which that word is used by lawyers. A status in this sense is a position to which is attached a bundle of rights and duties, privileges and obligations, legal capacities or incapacities, which are publicly recognized and which can be defined and enforced by public authority and in many cases by courts of law’ (‘The Nature and Determinants of Social Status’, in Class, Citizenship, and Social Development, 1964
). However, like most of the other main sociological concepts for studying systems of stratification, that of estate is a matter of some dispute.


views updated May 14 2018

es·tate / iˈstāt/ • n. 1. an area or amount of land or property, in particular: ∎  an extensive area of land in the country, usually with a large house, owned by one person or organization. ∎  all the money and property owned by a particular person, esp. at death: in his will, he divided his estate between his wife and daughter. ∎  a property where coffee, rubber, grapes, or other crops are cultivated. ∎ Brit. a housing or commercial development.2. archaic or poetic/lit. a particular state, period, or condition in life: programs for the improvement of man's estate. ∎  grandeur, pomp, or state.


views updated May 23 2018

estate (arch.) condition, status XIII; outward pomp XIV; class of the body politic; interest in property XV; property, possessions XVI; landed property XVIII. Early forms (a)estat, astat(e) — OF. estat (mod. état) — L. status, f. stat-, pp. stem of -stāre STAND. Cf. STATE.

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