Estate: Meaning of Fee Simple

Estate: Meaning of Fee Simple

Estate: Meaning of Fee Simple

The received English Land Law otherwise known as the “non-customary land tenure system” is derived from the English Laws which consist of the Common law of England, the doctrine of equity, and statutes of general application which were in force in England on the 1st day of January 1900.

The English Law recognizes many different interests which can exist in land, and a person’s rights in respect of a piece of land, how he can enjoy it, how far he can dispose of it, how long his interest will last, and so on, all depend on the precise nature of his interest.

The received England Law is based on doctrines of “tenure” and of “estate”. The doctrine of tenure means that all land is held by the crown, either directly or indirectly. The doctrine of the estate means that a subject cannot own land, but can merely own an estate in it, authorizing him to hold it for some time (Hayton).

The hallmark of English Land law is that all lands are owned by the state (crown) and that people are only in possession of the parts that are granted to them by the crown. The crown is the rightful owner of the whole land and he shares the land as it pleases him based on the people’s loyalties to him.

Harwood submits, therefore, that the principle that a man does not own land but merely holds it as a tenant either directly or indirectly of the crown is the doctrine of tenure.

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The second aspect of English Land Law is the doctrine of an estate. The doctrine of estate proves to the individual, the right to possession, which he holds either directly or indirectly of the crown as a tenant. There are two types of estate, to wit: estate of freehold and estate less than freehold (leasehold estate). The major difference between a mate of freehold and an estate less than freehold is the duration of possession.

Types of Estate of Freehold

Estate of freehold can be split into Fee Simple, fee tail, and life.

While the fee simple and the life estate have always existed in English Law, the fee tail was introduced by statute in 1285. The clear features of all the types of the estate of freehold are that they all have a period of duration but it’s not certain.

Nobody could say when the death would occur of a man and his heirs, or a man and all his descendants, or a man alone, but the duration was not wholly indefinite.

In the case of the fee simple and fee tail, the word ‘fee’ denoted:

  1. That the estate was an estate of inheritance, that is, an estate which on the death of the tenant, was capable of descending to his heir
  2. That the estate might continue forever.

A fee simple descended to heirs general, including collaterals. A fee tail descended to special heirs special.

A life estate, on the other hand, was not a fee. It was not an inheritance and it could not continue forever. On the death of the tenant, an ordinary life estate was determined, and an estate pur autre vie did not descend to the tenant’s heir but passed under special rules of occupancy.

Fee Simple

The fee simple is the largest estate in point of duration, for being one that is granted to a man and his heirs. It will last as long as the person entitled to it for the time being dies living an heir, and therefore, it may last forever in the sense that it may never pass to the crown for want of an heir.

Originally, Fee simple is an estate that endured for as long as the original tenant or any of his heirs survived.  As Hayton puts it, at first, fee simple would determine if the original tenant died without leaving any descendants or collateral blood relations, that is, brothers or cousins. It was settled that where a tenant in fee simple alienated the land, the fee simple would continue as long as there were heirs of the new tenant and so on, irrespective of any failure of the original tenant’s heirs. Henceforth, a fee simple was virtually eternal.

The word ‘fee’ in the fee simple denotes its inheritability, and the word “simple” indicates that it is inherited by the general heirs of the owner for the time being whether they are ascendants, descendants, or collateral. The word ‘fee’ also indicates that land held for this estate is capable of being inherited.

It shall be important to note that the interest in fee simple is also transferable during the early time of such interest and the lifetime of the tenant.

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However, important changes have been made by the Administration of Estate Act, of 1925 (England). The first change is the provision that after 1925 if a person dies intestate his land is to pass not to his heir but to persons determined according to rules laid down in the Act.

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