What Is an Estate in Land?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An estate in land is an interest in real estate that may vary in nature, and may result in possession immediately or in the future. Laws surrounding real estate are extremely complex in many nations in part because real estate is larger and more durable than movable personal property. It is important to be aware that “estate” in this case refers to real estate, not to a will.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

There are four major types of estate in land, divided by the nature of the interest and how it is created. One of the most well known is a freehold estate, where the person who holds the interest actually owns the real estate. A person who buys a home has a freehold estate. In this kind of estate in land, the interest holder both owns the property and has the right to possess it. As the owner, it is possible to sell or grant the property to another party, or to use it as collateral on a loan.

In contrast, a leasehold estate in land allows for use and occupancy, but not ownership. A tenant with a month-to-month rental agreement has a leasehold estate. She may use the land, but she cannot transfer it or engage in other activities limited to the owner by law. The owner can also establish terms limiting use beyond the legal requirements set out under law such as zoning that would prohibit commercial use of residential property.

Another type of estate in land is the equitable estate, created through an easement or lien. This does not offer exclusive ownership or use rights, but does confer some. The holder of a lien can block sales of the property, for example, while easements grant specific use rights. Utilities often have an equitable estate in the form of an easement to allow them to bring water, power, and gas through or over a property in order to provide utility services.

Statutory estates in land are created through the law. A classic example is the community property law seen in many regions of the world. Under this law, when people marry, their estates mingle; if a wife owned a house prior to the marriage, for instance, her spouse acquires an interest in it at the time of the marriage. In cases where spouses want to keep real property separate, they will need a prenuptial agreement to specify this. The estate in land will come into play in the event of a separation.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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