Inquest of office is an inquiry conducted by king’s officer, coroner, sheriff, or other royal officer into matters affecting the rights and interests of the crown or of the state to the possession of lands or tenements, goods, or chattels. For example, the inquiry into the Crown’s right to property by reason of escheat, treason, or other ground of forfeiture. An inquest of office is usually conducted upon direction of the court by a jury of no determinate number. An inquest of office concluded no man of his/her right, but only gave the king an opportunity to enter so that s/he could have his/her right tried.
In Wilbur v. Tobey, 33 Mass. 177 (Mass. 1834), the court observed that “Where a subject dies intestate, as the estate descends to collateral kindred indefinitely, the presumption of law is that he had heirs, and this presumption will be good against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts until they institute the regular proceedings by inquest of office, by which the fact whether the intestate did or did not die without heirs, can be ascertained, and if this fact is established in favor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it rebuts the contrary presumption, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, by force of the judgment, and 1791 Mass. Act 13, § 1, become seised in law and in fact. In such case an inquest of office is necessary, and that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts cannot be deemed to be seised, without such inquest.”