Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Fee Definition:

A legal right in land; or a money payment to purchase a service or a right.

Related Terms: Fee Tail

In the law of real property, the term fee comes form Northern England and was used interchangeably or synonymously with fief.

A fee was an award of land given by a conquering general to his officers, and then subdivided to inferior officers or deserving soldiers.1 The fee owner had to promise to serve in the event of any further military efforts.

John Bouvier, in his Law Dictionary, points out that, historically:

"A fee is ... the right which a tenant or vassal has to the use of lands while the absolute property remains in a superior.... The term may be used of other property as well as land."

A fee evolved to become a right of exclusive use of specified land which one could pass on to their heirs.

The word fee, without any qualification such as fee tail or fee conditional, came to represent the highest interest in land a person could have, and to ensure distinction with other, lesser forms of fee, is often referred to as fee simple or fee absolute.

As Bouvier remarks:

"Fee simple ... the word simple adds no meaning to the word fee standing by itself."

Outside real property law, fee refers to an award or payment to a person in exchange for their services, such as an attorney's fee. 

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