The power of a state to acquire title to property for which there is no owner.
The most common reason that an escheat takes place is that an individual dies intestate, meaning without a valid will indicating who is to inherit his or her property, and without relatives who are legally entitled to inherit in the absence of a will. A state legislature has the authority to enact an escheat statute.
In feudal England, escheat was a privilege exclusively given to the king. The policy of inheritance
was to preserve the wealth of noble families by permitting one individual to inherit an entire estate. There was no writing of wills that would leave property to several heirs because that would have the effect of breaking up the estate. In addition, the law established a hierarchy of heirs who stood in line to inherit the estate. If there was no living person of a designated class to inherit, the king took the property by escheat.
Historically, reasons existed for escheat apart from the absence of heirs to inherit a decedent's property. When corporations were subject to strict regulation, it was unlawful for a corporation to own property in any way not permitted by its state-granted charter. Any property beyond that needed by the corporation for the operation of its business, or in excess of the amount designated in its charter, or held for a period of time beyond that which was permitted, was subject to escheat.
Certain states mandated escheat of property belonging to religious societies that either promoted POLYGAMY or neglected to incorporate as required by law. Additionally, where public lands were provided for settlers, statutes frequently made provisions for escheat when one individual took possession of more than the permitted acreage or did not properly cultivate the homestead.
Escheat is distinguishable from FORFEITURE even though both terms refer to a relinquishment of property. Forfeiture can be applied to any type of property interest, including possession, the right to inherit, or the right of reversion. In addition, forfeiture often is used as a penalty against an individual who has an interest in property, for an illegal act. An escheat takes place due to the lack of any person with a valid interest in the property, and is not usually linked to any illegality or wrongdoing.
Succession is the passing of a...