An interest in land.
When the term “estate” is used in connection with probate proceedings, it is also meant to include all of the assets and liabilities of the decedent, including all manner of property, real and personal, choate or inchoate, corporeal or incorporeal.
Encyclopedia Britannica (11th Edition)
ESTATE (through O. Fr. estat, mod. état, from Lat. status, state, condition, position, stare, to stand), the state or condition in which a man lives, now chiefly used poetically and in such phrases as “man’s estate,” or “of high estate”; “state” has superseded most of the uses of the word except (1) in property and (2) in constitutional law.
1. In the law of property the word is employed in several senses. In the widest sense a man’s estate comprises his entire belongings; so much of it as consists of land and certain other interests associated therewith is his “real estate”; the rest is his “personal estate.” The word is more particularly applied to interests in land, and in popular and general use “an estate” means the land itself. The strict technical meaning of “an estate” is an interest in lands, and this conception lies at the root of the English theory of property in land. “The first thing that the student has to do,” says Joshua Williams (Law of Real Property), “is to get rid of the idea of absolute ownership. Such an idea is quite unknown to the English law. No man is in law the absolute owner of lands. He can only hold an estate in them.” That is, the notion of tenure, of holding by a tenant from a lord, prevails. The last lord of all from whom all land was ultimately held was the king. Persons holding directly from the king and granting to others were the king’s tenants in capite, and were the mesne lords of their tenants.
Estates in land may be classified according to (1) the quantity of their interest or duration, (2) the time of enjoyment, and (3) the number and connexion of the tenants. According to (1), an estate may be either a freehold of inheritance or a freehold not of inheritance. A freehold of inheritance may be (a) an estate in fee simple, which is the largest estate a man can hold in English law, and comes close to the idea of absolute ownership, repudiated by Williams; an estate in fee simple is inheritable by a man’s heirs generally, he has full powers of disposition over it, and may alienate the whole or part. (b) It may also be in limited fees, which are again subdivided into (i.) qualified or base fee, (ii.) fee conditional, so called at the common law, afterwards, on the passing of the statute De Donis Conditionalibus, fee tail, which may be general as to the heirs of a man’s body, or special, as to the heirs male (or female) of his body. A freehold not of inheritance may be either (1) conventional, as an estate for life, which may be either an estate for one’s own life or for the life of another (pur autre vie); (2) legal, or created by operation of law, as tenancy in tail after possibility of issue extinct (i.e. where an estate is given to a man and the heirs of his body by his present wife, and the wife dies without issue, the husband becomes tenant in tail after possibility of issue extinct); tenancy by curtesy (see Curtesy); tenancy in dower (see Dower).
Estates not of freehold or less than freehold are subdivided into (i.) estates for years (often called estates for a term of years, the instrument creating it being termed a lease or demise, and the estate itself a leasehold interest); (ii.) estates at will, that is, where lands or tenements are let by one man to another to have and to hold at the will of the lessor; (iii.) estates at sufferance, where one comes into possession of land under a lawful title, and continues in possession after his title has determined.
According to (2), estates are either in possession or in expectancy. Estates in expectancy are either (a) in remainder, which may be vested or contingent, or (b) in reversion (see Remainder, Reversion).
According to (3), estates may be either (i.) in severalty, that is, the holding of an estate by a person in his own right only, without any other person being joined or connected with him in point of interest therein; (ii.) estates in joint tenancy (see Joint); (iii.) coparcenary (q.v.); and (iv.) tenancy in common, where two or more hold the same land, by several and distinct titles, but with unity of possession. (See also Real Property.)
2. In constitutional law an estate is an order or class having a definite share as such in the body politic, and participating either directly or by its representatives in the government. The system of representation by estates took its rise in western Europe during the 13th century, at a time when the feudal system was being broken up through various causes, notably the growing wealth and power of the towns. In the feudal council the clergy and the territorial nobles had alone had a voice; but the 13th century, to quote Stubbs (Const. Hist. ii. 168, ed. 1875), “turns the feudal council into an assembly of estates, and draws the constitution of the third estate from the ancient local machinery which it concentrates.” This is, allowing for differences of detail, true of other countries as well as England. To the two estates already existing, clergy and nobles, is added a third, that of the commons (burgesses and knights of the shire) in England, that of theroturiers in France (known as the tiers état). This division into three estates became the norm, but it was not universal, nor inevitable.1 Even in England there was a tendency to create other estates, the king for instance treating with the merchants separately for grants of money to be raised by taxing the general body of merchants in the country; and there was a similar tendency on the part of the lawyers. But for the accident of their sitting and voting together, the burgesses and knights of the shire would also have formed separate estates. In Aragon the cortes contained four estates (brazos or arms), the clergy, the great barons (ricos hombres), the minor barons (knights or infanzones), and the towns. The Swedish diet had also four—clergy, barons, burghers and peasants.
The system of estates, based on the medieval conception of society as divided into definite orders, formed the basis of whatever constitutional forms survived in Europe till the French Revolution. In England, of course, it had early become obscured, the House of Commons representing the whole nation outside the narrow order of the peers. The creation of an estate of lesser nobles or landowners had been prevented by the fusion of the knights of the shire with the burgesses; the spiritual estate was ruled out by the determination of the clergy to deliberate and tax themselves in their own convocation, leaving the bishops, as spiritual peers, to represent their interests in parliament.
The phrase “the three estates of the realm” still survives, but to most men it conveys no clear meaning. The erroneous conception early arose—Hallam says it was current among the popular lawyers of the 17th century—that the “three estates” were king, lords and commons, as representing the three great divisions of legislative authority. Such a conception might be possible in Hungary, where the crown of St. Stephen symbolizes not so much the royal power as the co-ordination of the powers of all the organs of the state, including the king; but in England the king represents the whole nation and in no sense a separate interest within it, which is the essence of an estate. The phrase “three estates” as applied to the English constitution at present is, in fact, misleading. It is now usually understood of the lords spiritual, the lords temporal, and the commons.
The conception of the “three estates of the realm” as the great divisions of legislative authority led in England to the coining of the phrase “fourth estate,” to indicate some power of corresponding magnitude in the state distinct from them. Fielding thus spoke of “the mob,” and Hazlitt of Cobbett; but the phrase is now usually applied to the press, a usage originating in a speech by Burke (Carlyle, Hero-worship, Lect. v.).
In the constitutional struggles of the European continent, from the Revolution onward, the rival theories of representation by estates and of popular representation have played a great part. The crucial moment of the French Revolution was when the vote according to “order” was rejected and the estates of the clergy and nobles were merged with the tiers état, the states-general thus becoming the National Assembly. This was the precedent followed, generally speaking, during the 19th century in the other countries in which constitutional government 791was established. In most of them the medieval estates lingered on in provincial diets (Landtage),2 and the famous Article XIII. of the Federal Act (Bundesakte) of Vienna decreed that “assemblies of estates” should be set up, wherever not already existing, in the German states. The efforts of Metternich and the statesmen of his school were directed, not so much to abolishing the constitutional model, as to establishing it, if need were, on traditional and conservative lines. This is what was meant by the famous reply of the emperor Francis I. to the Magyar deputation; “All the world is playing the fool and demanding fanciful constitutions.” When the need for making constitutional concessions became urgent, the attempt was accordingly made to base them on the system of estates. But the central diet convoked in 1847 by Frederick William IV. to Berlin, technically a concentration of provincial estates, quickly converted itself as Metternich had prophesied—into a national assembly; and precisely the same thing happened in the case of the first Austrian parliament in 1848. In Hungary the revolution was in some respects more conservative in character. The March Laws of 1848 preserved the general character of the House of Magnates, comparable to the British House of Lords, but converted the Lower House from what was practically representative of the estate of the lesser nobles into a national representative assembly. Of all the sovereign states of Europe only the grand-duchies of Mecklenburg still (1909) retain the ancient system of estates untouched. The diet, which is common to the two duchies, consists of the Ritterschaft, in which all tenants in chivalry (Rittergutsbesitzer), whether noble or non-noble, have a voice, and the Landschaft, which consists of the chief magistrates of the towns. The former is taken as representative of the peasant proprietors and copy-holders (Hintersassen), the latter of the burghers.
The plural form Estates or States (Fr. états, Ger. Stände) is the name commonly given to an assembly of estates (assemblée des états, Ständeversammlung). When such an assembly is not merely local or provincial it is called the estates-general or states-general (états généraux), e.g. in France the assembly of the deputies of the three estates of the realm as distinct from the provincial estates which met periodically in the so-called pays d’états.
For further details about the estates in England and elsewhere see W. Stubbs, Constitutional History, vol. ii. (1896); H. Hallam, The Middle Ages (1855); F.W. Maitland, Constitutional History of England (1908); A. Luchaire,Histoire des institutions monarchiques de la France (1883-1885); G. Waitz, Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte (Kiel, 1865-1878); and A.S. Rait, The Scottish Parliament (1901). See also Representation.
1In Scotland the three estates were the prelates, the tenants-in-chief and the burgesses, the third estate joining the others for the first time about the beginning of the 14th century. In 1428 commissioners of shires, men elected by the minor tenants-in-chief, were ordered to appear in parliament; the greater tenants-in-chief then coalesced with the prelates and the three estates were the lords, clerical and lay, the commissioners of shires and the burgesses. From 1640 to 1660 parliament was reorganized, the prelates being excluded, but at the Restoration the old order was re-established. The Scottish parliament was accustomed to depute much of its work to a committee, composed of members from each of the three orders, and the committee of the estates was very prominent during the struggle between Charles I. and his people.
2These diets are, wherever they still exist, survivals of the “parliaments” of separate territorial units.