Rule in Shelley's Case Law and Legal Definition

Rule in Shelley's Case is a principle of English law that if in a single grant a freehold estate is given to a person and a remainder is given to the person's heirs, the remainder belongs to the named person and not the heirs, so that the person is held to have a fee simple absolute. The name is derived from the famous 16th-century case, Wolfe v. Shelley, 76 Eng. Rep. 206 (K.B. 1581) which has been abolished in most states.

The following are examples of case law discussing rule in Shelley’s case:

The rule in Shelley's Case was introduced into Maryland as part of the common law, and has continued in force in that state and in the District of Columbia. The rule in Shelley's Case was that when an estate of freehold is limited to a person for life, and the same instrument contains a limitation either mediate or immediate to his heirs or the heirs of his body, the word heirs is a word of limitation, and the grantee takes the whole estate either in fee tail or fee simple. This is a rule of law, and not a rule of construction. It applies to nothing but real estate, and if resorted to in connection with personal estate, it is only by way of analogy, and as a rule of construction in order to promote the intention. [De La Vergne Refrigerating Machine Co. v. Featherstone, 147 U.S. 209, 222 (U.S. 1893)]

The rule in Shelley's case is applicable to trust estates, where both the life estate and the remainder are of the same character, but not where the life estate is of an equitable character and the remainder is a legal estate, or vice versa. [Green v. Green, 90 U.S. 486 (U.S. 1874)]