fee tail

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Fee Tail

An estate in land subject to a restriction regarding inheritance.

A fee tail is an interest in real property that is ordinarily created with words such as "to A and the heirs of his body." It may be limited in various ways, such as to male or female heirs only, or to children produced by a particular spouse.

A fee tail is passed by inheritance from generation to generation to the heirs of the body of the initial owner. Since no one is an heir of the living, the children of the owner of a fee tail are merely heirs apparent. Such children, therefore, have no transferable interest during their lifetimes.

A fee tail can endure until the holder dies without surviving issue, but it cannot be passed on to collateral heirs. A reversion remains in the original owner whenever a fee tail is created. Thus, if a tenant in fee tail dies without heirs, the property reverts back to the original grantor who initially created the fee tail estate.

The power of the holder of a fee tail is limited, since the holder can use the land during the course of his or her lifetime but cannot prohibit its passing to his or her bodily heirs if any exist upon his or her death.

Many jurisdictions have abolished the fee tail estate since it restricts the ready alienation, or transfer, of property. Such states have transformed it into a fee simple through statute.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

fee tail

n. an old feudal expression for a title to real property which can only be passed to one's heirs "of his body" or certain heirs who are blood relatives. If the blood line ran out (no children) then the title would revert to the descendants of the lord who originally gave the land to the title-holding family. Thus, it could not be transferred to anyone outside the family. The intention was to keep lands within a family line and not subdivided. In 16th Century England, trusts were established to get around this "restraint on alienation" so the land could be held in trust for another person to use. Fee tail is of historic and academic interest only. (See: fee, fee simple)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.

fee tail

a freehold interest in land restricted to a particular line of heirs or an estate in land subject to such restriction.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006