Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Escheat Definition:

Where property is surrendered to the government upon the death of the owner, because there is nobody to inherit the property.

Escheat is a creature of law French but derived the Latin principle of dominiun directum as was often used in the feudal system when a vacancy of title occured because a tenant died without heirs, or if the tenant was convicted of a felony.

In medieval England, the King was always on the lookout for property and when a person died without legal heirs, the property was confiscated by the King.

The title "Cheater" was given to the Royal officer who tended to the king's entitlement to his "escheats", and from that word, apparently, evolved the modern word "cheat".

D. Saxe, a Toronto lawyer describes the term as:

"... the automatic transfer of title to the Crown when the owner of property, if an individual, dies intestate and without heirs or, if a corporation, is dissolved."

Canadian provinces may have "Escheat Acts", which takes the concept to a new level. For example:

"If a corporation is dissolved, land in British Columbia owned by or to which the corporation is entitled at the time of its dissolution escheats to the government."

A now-repealed version of a similar Quebec's statute called a spade a spade and was entitled "Escheat and Confiscation Act".


  • 1996 Revised Statues of British Columbia  Ch. 120
  • Escheat and Confiscation Act RSQ  B-5
  • Rawson, Hugh, "Wicked Words", Three Rivers Press, 1992
  • Saxe, D., "New Laws Tame Government's Fear of Contaminated Land Escheats", The Lawyers Weekly, Feb 22, 2008, page 9.

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