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Word of the Week (165): CURTESY (probability 17528), by David Sutton

CURTESY is one of those words that look like a misspelling, either for COURTESY or CURTSEY, but in fact it is a legal term: the right of a widower to a life estate in the land of his late wife.

Inheritance being an area of the law which affects us all sooner or later, it is not surprising that there are quite a few obscure legal terms relating to the various rules and practices that have obtained in it over the centuries. ESNECY, for example, is the eldest daughter's right of first choice in dividing an inheritance; this is related to French aîne, elder. GAVELKIND was a form of land inheritance a tenure long prevailing in Kent by which lands descended from the father to all sons (or, failing sons, to all daughters) in equal portions, and not by PRIMOGENITURE i.e. all going to the eldest son. One who inherited thus was a GAVELMAN.

MAJORAT is a French word for primogeniture.

JOINTURE is property settled by a husband on his wife at their marriage for her use after her husband's death; this can also be a verb, to settle a jointure upon. A woman receiving a jointure is a JOINTURESS or JOINTRESS.

A PARCENER (or COPARCENER) is simply a joint heir; this goes back to Latin pars, part.

CYPRES is the principle of applying the money donated to a charity, etc to some object as near as possible to the one specified by the donor or testator, when that itself is impracticable. It comes from the Old French for 'so near'.

To ADEEM a bequest is to cancel it by destroying the thing bequeathed: I was going to leave you my Scrabble set but after losing the last game by 300 I've cut it up for firewood so I'm afraid that bequest has been adeemed.

ESCHEAT is the reversion of property to the state or crown in the case where there are no legal heirs. This can also be a verb. An older form is EXCHEAT, and this can't be a verb.

LEGITIM is a term from Scots law meaning that which children are entitled to out of a deceased father's moveable estate (also called bairn's-part).

Finally if you want to call yourself something posher than an heir you can be a HERES (plural HEREDES) or HAERES (plural HAEREDES).


   













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