Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Coparcenary Definition:

The co-ownership of property which has devolved intestate.

Related Terms: Co-ownership, Gavelkind

In Charles Sweet's 1882 dictionary, these words;

"Coparcenary: where lands descent on an intestacy to several persons as co-heirs (e.g. to several daughters at common law or to several sons according to the custom of gavelkind) the persons so inheriting are called coparceners or tenants in coparcenary....

"Coparceners may also convey to one another by deed ... in the same way as joint tenants.

"Copaceners could always compel the others to make a partition."

Historically, there were four main forms of co-ownership of an estate or of an interest in land: joint tenancy, tenancy in common, coparcenary and tenancy by the entireties. Only the first two have any contemporary importance.

The evolution of coparcenary is described by John Orth in his 1977 article in the Brigham Young University Law Review:

"The ancient estate in coparcenary ... arose when land descended from an ancestor to two or more persons, an eventuality which, apart from the prevalence of wills, occurred only about half as often in his day as in ours because the first-born male then inherited to the exclusion of all others.

"At common law, multiple heirs meant inheritance by or through females: daughters, sisters, aunts, cousins, or their representatives.

"Today the tenancy in coparcenary is subsumed in the tenancy in common."

In Kennedy v Henry, Justice Penix of the Court of Appeals of Arkansas used these words:

"Coparceny is an ancient means of holding an estate in which a group holds land with no key to how much each owns."



  • Kennedy v Henry, 604 SW 2d 585 (1980) at Footnote #1.
  • Orth, John V. , Tenancy by the Entirety: The Strange Career of the Common-Law Marital Estate, 1997 BYU L. Rev. 37
  • Sweet, Charles, A Dictionary of English Law (London: Henry Sweet, 1882) page 208.

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