worthier title doctrine


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worthier title doctrine

(1) At common law, if a testator devised (left by will) exactly the same interest in land that an heir would take by descent (laws applicable when there wasn't a will), then the heir would be considered as having taken title by descent rather than devise. Descent was considered the worthier title. The doctrine has its roots in English feudal law and certain rights that passed by land if it were inherited, but not if it were gained “by purchase,” which included “by will.”Today, most states have overruled this portion of the doctrine or ignored it as irrelevant. It does still sometimes arise in the context of adverse possession and calculation of holding periods.(2) A second portion of the doctrine is called the inter vivos branch;it is still alive and well,although rarely encountered because it is a somewhat exotic theory.This branch holds that a gift by A to a trust for A's lifetime, with the property then given to A's heirs after A's death, is a gift to A's heirs by the worthier title of descent rather than by a lifetime gift. The practical implications are that the heirs have no rights to anything until A dies, so that if an heir has creditors, there is nothing for the creditors to seize until A dies. If it were not for the doctrine, A's heirs would have a remainder interest during A's lifetime, which would be subject to seizure by creditors.