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Worthier Title Doctrine

A COMMON LAW rule that provides that a conveyance of real property by a grantor to another person for life with a limitation to the grantor's heirs creates a reversion in the grantor by which his or her heirs acquire the property only upon the death of the grantor, not upon the death of the person who has been granted the property for life.

The worthier title doctrine comes from English feudal real PROPERTY LAW and is based on the presumption that a title by descent (land inherited by an heir) is worthier (better) than a title by conveyance (purchase.) If a grantor or a testator attempts to convey a future interest in land to the grantor's heirs, the heirs would be getting by conveyance what they would otherwise take by descent, making the conveyance void.

For example, A deeds Blackacre to B for life, and then to the heirs of A. The effect of the doctrine is that A has a reversion (a future interest remaining with A in the property), while B has a life estate. The words to the heirs of A are words of limitation, which are required under the worthier title doctrine. If the heirs acquire the property at all, it is only after the death of the owner. If the heirs had a remainder interest in the property, they would acquire it after the death of B, the grantee with the life estate, regardless of whether A, the grantor, was alive or dead. The deed or will would have to contain language such as "to B for life and to C, D, E, (the heirs) in fee."

The worthier title doctrine has been abolished in many states by the UNIFORM PROBATE CODE, § 2-710. Where the doctrine has been abolished, language in a governing instrument describing the beneficiaries of a disposition as the transferor's heirs, heirs at law, next of kin, distributees, relatives, or family, or language of similar import, does not create a reversionary interest in the transferor. In effect, the reversion interest is eliminated and the heirs receive their unrestricted remainder interest in the property.

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