What Does "Fee Simple Ownership" Mean?

by Will Charpentier
Fee simple ownership means absolute ownership.

Fee simple is the most desirable form of real estate ownership. A fee simple title to land is a title described in common law as being, “good against all the world.” Fee simple ownership of real property has four characteristics, all of which relate to the owner’s right and interest in land.

Absolute Ownership

Anyone who owns property in fee simple has absolute ownership of the property. Unlike fee simple, a life estate gives one owner of the life estate the right to occupy property for life but not to sell or materially alter the property. Equitable ownership doesn’t affect the fee simple ownership of property, because equitable ownership is the result of the decision of a court of equity, such as a probate court. Fee simple ownership is unqualified; that is, there are no restrictions on what the owner can do with or on the property, other than the constraints of law or regulation, such as easements, zoning ordinances or fire regulations. This quality of absolute ownership is the key to the other characteristics of a fee simple.

Sale Without Restrictions

Because the property owner’s right to the property is absolute, the property owner can sell the property to any person or organization without restriction. Other forms of ownership, such as a life estate, do not. The occupant of a property held in a life estate can sell only his interest in the life estate; he cannot sell the property and, unless his heirs are the other participants in the life estate, he cannot leave the property to them.

Passes to Heirs

The person who owns property in fee simple can include the property in his estate. With the absolute ownership of fee simple comes absolute authority to leave the property to heirs without restriction. While heirs may challenge each other in court for an equitable interest in the property, the owner’s right to dispose of the property at will -- even after death -- remains inviolate.

Sole or Joint Ownership

Whether property is owned by one person or jointly between two or more persons doesn’t affect the fee simple nature of the ownership. If a property owner dies intestate -- without a will -- state laws governing inheritance can preclude questions of the ownership of the interest in property. The owners can sell the property at will or leave it to their heirs.

About the Author

Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.

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