fee tail

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A fee tail is a common law interest in land, which is now abolished in most states. The owner of land in fee tail is required to pass that land on to their children, who then may be required to pass it to their children. A fee tail is created when a deed uses the words "the heirs of his body," as in "to John Doe and the heirs of his body."

Due to the modern belief that fee tails are overly burdensome and inefficient, most jurisdictions in the United States abolished the fee tail and this language in a deed instead creates a fee simple. Additionally, many states have adopted disentailing statutes which turn already existing fee tail interests into interests owned in fee simple. 

For example, Alabama law prohibits the creation of new fee tails and turns all existing fee tails into a fee simple once they are transferred. In states with a statute like this one, a party can turn their fee tail into a fee simple through the use of a straw man transaction

[Last updated in January of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]