Incorporeal Hereditament

Incorporeal Hereditament
Incorporeal Hereditament
Quick Summary of Incorporeal Hereditament

A ghastly term for a right that can be sold along with land or property and which affects other land or property than that sold. For example, if the owner of land X has a right of access from land Y, and if X can sell that right when he sells his land, then he has an ‘incorporeal hereditament’ effective against the owner of Y. A less ugly term for this meta-right is servitude.

What is the dictionary definition of Incorporeal Hereditament?
Dictionary Definition of Incorporeal Hereditament

An incorporeal hereditament is a type of property interest that exists independently of physical or tangible property. It refers to rights or interests in property that are intangible and cannot be seen or touched, such as easements, rights of way, leases, patents, copyrights, or other intellectual property rights. Incorporeal hereditaments are inheritable and can be passed down from one owner to another upon the death of the previous owner. While incorporeal hereditaments do not have a physical presence, they are recognised as valuable property interests under the law and can be bought, sold, leased, or otherwise transferred like tangible property.

Full Definition Of Incorporeal Hereditament

Incorporeal hereditament is a term used in property law to refer to intangible rights that are attached to property and can be inherited. This concept is a critical component of property law in many common law jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom. It represents one of the key distinctions between different types of property rights and highlights the complex nature of property ownership and usage.

The Definition and Nature of Incorporeal Hereditaments

An incorporeal hereditament is an intangible right attached to a piece of land. Unlike corporeal hereditaments, which are physical properties such as land and buildings, incorporeal hereditaments are rights one can exercise over another’s property. These rights can be inherited and are considered part of the property.

Examples of incorporeal hereditaments include easements, profits à prendre, and rights of way. These rights do not involve the physical possession of land but rather grant specific privileges or benefits related to the land.

Historical Context

The concept of incorporeal hereditament has its roots in feudal law. In mediaeval England, the feudal system was based on holding land in exchange for service or labour. This system created a complex hierarchy of land rights and obligations, many of which were intangible. Over time, these intangible rights evolved into the modern concept of incorporeal hereditaments.

Historically, incorporeal hereditaments were crucial in developing the English legal system. They allowed for the separation of various rights associated with land, enabling a more flexible and nuanced approach to property ownership and use.

Types of Incorporeal Hereditaments

There are several incorporeal hereditaments, each with specific characteristics and legal implications. The most common types include:

  • Easements: An easement is a right that one landowner has to use the land of another for a specific purpose. For example, a right of way is an easement that allows the holder to pass over another’s land. Easements can be either positive, requiring the landowner to permit the use of their land, or negative, restricting the landowner from using their land in a certain way.
  • Profits à Prendre: This right allows an individual to take something from another’s land, such as minerals, timber, or game. Unlike an easement, which involves land use, a profit à prendre involves the removal of a part of the land’s produce.
  • Covenants are promises in deeds or contracts that stipulate what the landowner can or cannot do with their property. Covenants can be either positive (requiring the landowner to perform certain actions) or restrictive (prohibiting certain actions).
  • Rentcharges: A rentcharge is a periodic payment made by the landowner to another person, usually because of historical agreements or obligations.
  • Rights of Light: This is a specific type of easement that gives a landowner the right to receive natural light through a defined aperture (such as a window).
  • Adverse Possession: Although primarily a concept related to the acquisition of title, adverse possession also touches on the notion of incorporeal rights as it involves the possession and use of land under certain conditions.

Legal Framework

The legal framework governing incorporeal hereditaments is complex, involving statutory provisions, common law principles, and equitable doctrines. In the UK, several key statutes and legal principles shape the understanding and enforcement of these rights.

  • The Law of Property Act 1925: This Act is one of the cornerstone pieces of legislation in English property law. It consolidates and simplifies many aspects of property law, including creating and enforcing incorporeal hereditaments.
  • The Land Registration Act 2002 modernised the land registration system in England and Wales. It significantly changed the registration of incorporeal hereditaments, aiming to increase transparency and reduce disputes.
  • Case Law: Judicial decisions play a critical role in interpreting and applying the laws related to incorporeal hereditaments. Landmark cases often set precedents that shape the future application of these rights.

Creation and Enforcement

Incorporeal hereditaments can be created in various ways, including express grants, implied grants, or prescriptions.

  • Express Grant: An express grant involves a formal agreement, typically in a deed, where the landowner explicitly grants the right to another party.
  • Implied Grant: An implied grant arises from the circumstances surrounding land use. For example, if land is sold and an easement is necessary to enjoy the sold land, the easement may be implied.
  • Prescription: Prescription refers to the acquisition of rights through long-term use. If a right has been used openly, continuously, and without interruption for a specified period, it may become legal.

Enforcing incorporeal hereditaments often involves legal action. Disputes can arise over these rights’ existence, scope, and use. Courts typically rely on established legal principles and precedents to resolve such disputes, ensuring that the rights are respected while balancing the interests of all parties involved.

Practical Implications

Incorporeal hereditaments have significant practical implications for landowners, developers, and other stakeholders. Understanding these rights is essential for several reasons:

  • Land Development: Developers must consider existing incorporeal hereditaments when planning new projects. Easements, rights of way, and covenants can impact the feasibility and design of developments.
  • Property Transactions: When buying or selling property, it is crucial to identify any incorporeal hereditaments that may affect the property’s use or value. Failure to do so can lead to legal disputes and financial losses.
  • Dispute Resolution: Landowners must know their rights and obligations under incorporeal hereditaments to avoid conflicts with neighbours or other parties. Resolving disputes amicably can save time and resources compared to litigation.
  • Environmental and Social Considerations: Some incorporeal hereditaments, such as profits à prendre and rights of light, have environmental and social implications. Sustainable land use practices and community relations often hinge on carefully managing these rights.

Challenges and Reforms

The legal landscape of incorporeal hereditaments is not without challenges. Issues such as outdated laws, inconsistent judicial interpretations, and the complexity of land rights can create confusion and disputes. Several areas have been identified for potential reform:

  • Modernization of Laws: Updating statutory provisions to reflect contemporary land use practices and societal values can help reduce ambiguities and streamline the legal process.
  • Improved Registration Systems: Enhancing the registration of incorporeal hereditaments can increase transparency and reduce conflicts. The Land Registration Act 2002 made significant strides in this direction, but further improvements are possible.
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution: Encouraging mediation and arbitration to resolve disputes related to incorporeal hereditaments can offer more efficient and cost-effective solutions than traditional litigation.
  • Public Awareness and Education: Increasing landowners’, developers’, and legal professionals’ awareness and understanding of incorporeal hereditaments can help prevent disputes and promote fair outcomes.


Incorporeal hereditaments are a vital aspect of property law, reflecting land rights’ intricate and multifaceted nature. They encompass a range of intangible rights essential for the practical use and enjoyment of land. Understanding these rights, their creation, enforcement, and implications is crucial for landowners, legal professionals, and policymakers.

While the legal framework governing incorporeal hereditaments has evolved significantly, ongoing challenges and the need for reform highlight the dynamic nature of property law. By addressing these challenges and embracing reforms, the legal system can ensure that incorporeal hereditaments continue to serve their intended purposes effectively and equitably.

In conclusion, the study of incorporeal hereditaments offers valuable insights into the broader field of property law. It underscores the importance of balancing individual rights with collective interests in the use and management of land. Through continuous adaptation and improvement, the legal principles governing incorporeal hereditaments can support sustainable and harmonious land use for future generations.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 12th June 2024.

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