11 July 2013

Believed to be Fee Simple

This image comes from the inventory of the real estate of Barbara Haase who died in Hancock County, Illinois, in 1903. She owned small lot in Warsaw, Illinois, which this inventory addresses. The executor notes that "this Administrator [sic] cannot say what the Real interest of the deceased was in this property but believes it to be a fee simple."

How could the "administrator" not know what type of title Barbara had in the property?

The problem is that Barbara did not buy it herself. Her first husband purchased it in the early 1850s, only to die in 1855, leaving no will. Barbara later married and divorced Conrad Haase twice and she was not married at the time of her death.

It could have been possible that Barbara's title in the property was her dower interest in it or some type of life estate via her first husband. Most likely a search of property records had not been completed at the time the inventory was made.

Why did it matter whether her interest was a life estate or a fee simple title? Because it gets to the inheritance. If her ownership had been a life estate through her first husband, then the heirs of her first husband would have inherited the property.

If Barbara's ownership had been a fee simple title, then Barbara's heirs would have inherited the property upon her death. Those two groups of people were different. The heirs of Barbara's first husband included the families of Franciska Trautvetter and Louisa Meyers, children of Barbara and her first husband. The heirs of Barbara at her death were her six children: Franciska Trautvetter, Louisa Meyers, Conrad Haase (her son), Herman Haase, Anna Haase, and Helena Baker.

What title Barbara had did make a difference and because there was uncertainty at the time the inventory was compiled, the executor hedged his bets by using the word "believed." There is usually a reason when words like "believed" are used--they aren't thrown in a record simply to relieve boredom on the part of the clerk.

The resulting deeds involving this property were analyzed in an issue of Casefile Clues.