Manuscripts and Special Collections

Settlement deeds

Settlements from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth century can be very complicated. Many different deeds and documents were drawn up. They worked together to establish the terms of the settlement. The following types of deeds, each of which are explained in more detail below, might be settlement deeds:

  • deed to make a tenant to the praecipe
  • deed to declare the uses of a common recovery
  • common recovery
  • pre-nuptial settlement
  • post-nuptial settlement
  • deed of appointment and release
  • declaration of trust
  • deed of appointment of new trustees
  • assignment of term of years in trust to attend the inheritance
  • revocation of trust
  • will
  • Act of Parliament
  • deed of disentailment

If there was already an entail on the estate which the family wanted to settle, the first thing to do was to break it. The only way to do this, up to 1833, was to suffer a common recovery. This procedure began with the drawing up of a 'deed to make a tenant to the praecipe', which transferred the relevant land from the tenant for life to a lawyer, agent or other associate. The deed gave the details of why the land was being conveyed and what the common recovery was intended to achieve. If this was not spelt out in the deed to make a tenant to the praecipe, a 'deed to declare the uses of a common recovery' could be executed instead, after the common recovery had been suffered.

Once the entail had been broken, a new settlement was drawn up. Settlement deeds usually took the standard forms used for conveyances, leases or mortgages. The estate being settled would normally be conveyed to trustees by lease and release. Settlements by lease and release are sometimes called deeds of 'appointment and release'. In these settlements, the tenant for life would only 'appoint', 'direct' or 'limit' what would happen to the estate. The legal conveyance would be done by the trustees. These settlements can be enormous, made up of 20 or 30 large sheets of parchment sewn together. They are difficult to manipulate physically, as well as tricky to read. However, they usually follow a standard pattern.

The settlement would often stand for a long period such as 500 or 1,000 years. This would be specified in a clause within the settlement. A separate deed of 'declaration of trust' could also spell out the terms of a particular settlement.

Trusts had to be properly maintained and terminated, so many estate collections include deeds of appointment of new trustees.

When an estate which had been settled was sold to new owners, the existing term of years had to be properly terminated. This was done by assigning the estate to a trustee for the new owner, through an 'assignment of term of years in trust to attend the inheritance'. This was either a clause in the conveyance, or a separate deed on its own. The term could be completely extinguished by a surrender of term of years to merge in the inheritance. Deeds of 'revocation of trust' also exist, which put an end to the trusteeship.

It was not always necessary to draw up formal settlements. Wills were legally binding documents which could be used to settle estates. Estates could also be settled by Act of Parliament, although this was a very expensive procedure and only used in exceptional cases.

The procedures involved in drawing up settlements were simplified in the 1830s and 1840s. The Fines and Recoveries Act of 1833 abolished common recoveries. Breaking an entail could now be done by a simple deed of disentailment. Lease and releases were replaced in 1841-1845 by a simpler grant or conveyance.

In the later nineteenth century, the economic climate made it more attractive to have investments in money, stocks or shares than land. However, sales of land were often difficult to arrange under the terms of the strict settlements of large estates. The Settled Land Act of 1882 allowed the tenant for life to raise capital sums out of his estate to pay for improvements, and to sell land more easily. This gave him more control over the management of his estate. The rights of the other beneficiaries were still protected, but increasingly they received a portion of the money raised by sales, rather than inheriting the whole estate. The money raised by sales could not be taken by the tenant for life for his own profit. It had to be invested to the use of the other heirs. Also, any sales had to have the consent of the other heirs.


Next page: Simple settlement


Manuscripts and Special Collections

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