Definition - What does Mortmain mean?

Mortmain is a Latin term that means "dead hand." In the context of the law, mortmain refers to the perpetual ownership of land even after the death of the original owner.

This term is commonly used with religious organizations in which religious property may be held by the religious organization in perpetuity.

Justipedia explains Mortmain

The term "mortmain" dates back to medieval Europe and was initially used to prevent church lands from being seized after the death of a key priest or ecclesiastic member. Mortmain prevents church property from being redistributed after a person's death, as is commonly done with individuals.

Theoretically, if mortmain is established, then a religious or corporate organization has full control of the land until it decides to sell it at some point in the future. However, mortmain laws have changed since medieval times.

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