Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Words of Limitation Definition:

Words in a conveyance or in a will which set the duration of an estate.

Related Terms: Words of Purchase, Rule in Shelley's Case

If a will said "to Bob until Sue dies", the words "until Sue dies" are words of limitation because they indicate that Bob gets the land only until a specified event occurs: Sue's death.

In Bank of Nova Scotia Trust Co. v. Van Raan, Justice Smith wrote:

"(T)he words his heirsexecutors and administrators absolutely and forever, were words of limitation (describing the nature of the interest created by the gift) rather than words of purchase or words of substitution (describing what should happen to the gift if the person first named was no longer alive when it took effect)."

In Lusk v Broyles, Justice Robertson of the Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama used these words:

"In general, words of purchase are those by which, taken absolutely without reference to or connection with any other words, the estate first attaches or is considered as commencing in the person described by them, whilst words of limitation operate by reference to or connection with other words and extend or modify the estate given by those other words."

In 1966, Wright v Vaden, in reference to the Rule in Shelley's Case, Justice Sharp of the Supreme Court of North Carolina wrote:

"(I)t is important to draw and constantly keep in mind the difference between words of purchase and words of limitation... Words of purchase give the remainder to designated persons who thus take in their own right under the will or conveyance, and not by descent as heirs of the first taker. A purchaser, therefore, is one who acquires property in any manner other than by descent.

"Words of limitation denote the creation of an estate and define its extent or quality. They are words which by referring to some other words in the instrument describe the extent or size of an estate that has already attached to some person.

"And so when the Rule says that the words heirs or the heirs of the body of A are words of limitation and not words of purchase, it simply means that heirs or the heirs of the body refer to and are read in connection with the estate given to A, extending or modifying that estate, and are not taken as describing a group to whom an estate will first attach." 

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