ESCHEAT' (Fr. echoir, from Lat. cadere, to fall or happen), an incident of the feudal law whereby, when a tenant in fee-simple died, leaving no heir capable of succeeding, the land reverted to his lord. By the earlier usages, this effect took place where there was no representative of the vassal in the 7th degree, which, according to later custom, was male descendants in infinitum (Lib. Feud., i. 1, s. 4). According to the law of England, escheats" are of two kinds—propter defectum sanguinis, and propter delictum tenentis. The former was in accordance with the feudal usage; so that if the owner of an estate in fee-simple dies without leaving an heir, and without having disposed of his estate by deed or will, the land reverts to overlord, who in the present day is almost invariably the sovereign, except in copyhold estates, which E. to the lord of the manor. The most frequent instance of E. is in the case of the death of a bastard, who, having no relations but descendants, the lands on his death intestate and without issue, must revert to the crown. E. propter delictura tenentis is peculiar to the English law. It happened where a tenant in fee-simple had been guilty of treason or felony, in which case, not only his estate in possession, but any estate which might devolve upon him by the rules of descent, escheated to his lord; so that all who might succeed through him were cut off from the inheritance. This rule applied to all felonies, and was productive of much hardship. By modern legislation, it has been provided that attainder
for felony shall not operate as a bar to inheritance, except in case of treason or murder (54 Geo. III. c. 145, 3 and 4 Will. IV. c. 106, 13 and 14 Vict. c. 60). This species of E. is to be distinguished from forfeiture of lands to the crown for treason, which prevailed in other countries besides England. See FORFEITURE.
E. in Scotland is of two•kincts-1. The total forfeiture to the crown of all property heritable and movable belonging to a person who has been convicted of treason. 2. It signifies the forfeiture of goods by a debtor who has failed to make payment of debt in obedience to legal diligence (q.v.). This species of E. for debt was abolished by 20 Geo. II. c. 50. It was of two kinds: single E., and life-rent escheat. By the former, all the debtor's movables were forfeited to the crown; by the latter, the annual profits of the debtor's estate were forfeited to the superior. Single E. still exists in Scotland as a punishment of crime. In all capital convictions, it is ordered that the prisoner's "whole movable goods and gear be E. and inbrought to his majesty's use." In cases of deforcement, bigamy, perjury, and some others, single E. is imposed by statute as a portion of the penalty on conviction. Single E. also falls upon denuncia tion for outlawry; and if the rebel continues for a year under denunciation, his life-rent E. falls to his superior.