English personal property law

English personal property law is a branch of English property law concerned with non-land based property interests.

The division of property into real and personal represents the division into immovable and movable incidentally recognized in Roman law and generally adopted since. „Things personal,“ according to Blackstone, „are goods, money, and all other movables which may attend the owner’s person wherever he thinks proper to go“ (Comm. ii. 16). This identification of things personal with movables does not express the English law, owing to the anomalous position of chattels real. In England, real property is supposed to be superior in dignity to personal property, which was originally of little importance from a legal point of view. This view is the result of feudal ideas, and had no place in the Roman system, in which immovables and movables were dealt with as far as possible in the same manner, and descended according to the same rules.

Personal estate is divided in English law into chattels real and chattels personal; the latter are again divided into choses in possession and choses in action.

Interest in personal property may be either absolute or qualified. The latter case is illustrated by animals ferae naturae, in which property is only coextensive with detention. Personal property may be acquired by occupancy (including the accessio, commixtio, and confusio of Roman law), by invention, as patent and copyright, or by transfer, either by the act of the law (as in bankruptcy, judgment and intestacy), or by the act of the party (as in gift, contract and will).

There are several cases in which, by statute or otherwise, property is taken out of the class of real or personal to which it seems naturally to belong. By the operation of the equitable doctrine of conversion money directed to be employed in the purchase of land, or land directed to be turned into money, is in general regarded as that species of property into which it is directed to be converted. An example of property prima facie real which is treated as personal is an estate pur autre vie, which, since 14 Geo. II. c. 20, s. 9,1740-1741(now replaced by the Wills Act 1837, s. 6) is distributable as personal property in the absence of a special occupant. Examples of property prima facie personal which is treated as real are fixtures, heirlooms, such as deeds and family portraits, and shares in some of the older companies, as the New River Company, which are real estate by statute. In ordinary cases shares in companies are personal property, unless the shareholders have individually some interest in the land as land.

The main differences between real and personal property which still exist in England are these.

The terms heritable and movable of Scots law to a great extent correspond with the real and personal of English law. The main points of difference are these.

The law in the United States agrees in most respects with that of England. Heirlooms are unknown, one reason being, no doubt, that the importance of title-deeds is much less than it is in England, owing to the operation of the Registration Acts. Long terms in some states have annexed to them the properties of freehold estates. In some states, estates pur autre vie descend like real property; in others an estate pur autre vie is deemed a freehold only during the life of the grantee; after his death it becomes a chattel real. In yet other states, the heir has a scintilla of interest as special occupant. In some states, railway rolling stock is considered as purely personal; in others, it has been held to be a fixture, and so to partake of the nature of real property. Shares in some of the early American corporations were, like New River shares in England, made real estate by statute, as in the case of the Cape Sable Company in Maryland. In Louisiana, animals employed in husbandry are, and slaves were, regarded as immovables. Pews in churches are generally real property, but in some states they are made personal property by statute. The assignment of choses in action is generally permitted, and is in most states regulated by statute. U. W.)