Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Fee Tail Definition:

A form of ownership which passes onto successive lineal descendants of the owner.

Related Terms: Fee Simple, Fee

A form of limited ownership under the feudal system that transferred only to lineal descendants.

It could be created using words such as "to Lloyd Duhaime and to his heirs".

Such heirs have no interest until and unless the landowner owner dies. The fee tail then survives until a lineal descendant dies without issue.

When and if there were  no lineal descendants upon the death of the fee tail holder, the land reverts back to the original owner such as, in Feudal times, to the Lord.

A fee tail can cause all sorts of problems as one never knows for how long a lineal descendancy may go on; all the while not only diluting ownership of the living heir, but also suspending full ownership, sometimes for centuries, while and until lineal descendants succeed one another.

Because of the significant complexities in regards to the full legal ownership of real property fee tails entail, they have been prohibited in most jurisdictions.

In Volume 1 of the 2nd Edition (1985) of Anger and Honsberger Real Property, the author wrote:

"An estate is an abstract concept distinct from the land itself.  In essence, the word describes the rights a person may have in land for a period of time.  The quantum of the estate thus varies with time.

"The largest estate possible is the fee simple.  In theory it may last forever, being passed on by transfer or succession.  It ends only when the owner of it dies intestate without an heir.  In that event it passes to the Crown.

"It may be carved up into lesser estates, namely, the fee tail, which lasts only so long as the direct descendants of the original tenant in tail survive, and the life estate which lasts for the duration of the life specified."

In the 3rd Edition (2008), the author added:

"For example, land may be granted "to A for life, then to B in tail, remainder to C in fee simple". In this example, all three persons have estates in the land .. though B's and C's interests will only be enjoyed in ... the future."


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