Nacherbe is *not* reversionary heir

Excuse me tearing my hair out, but I’ve just seen this recommended yet again, and it’s in several dictionaries, and it is wrong!

Under German law, a testator may leave stuff to a Vorerbe (prior heir) and a Nacherbe (subsequent heir). In the usual case, maybe a house to A for life, and when A dies, then to B.

That’s a bit like a life interest and a remainderman (remainderperson in some U.S. usage). A trust arises in English law, but the situation is similar. The remainderman gets what’s left.

These trusts can be quite complex. The testator may leave the estate to A for life, with remainder to B for life, and in that case, since clearly B’s heirs are not included, on B’s death the estate will revert to the testator – or rather, since the testator will be dead, it will revert to the testator’s heirs on intestacy (gesetzliche Erben). They are the reversioners.

It’s not a secret that revert means come back, is it?

But a Nacherbe is not a reversioner, not the heir(s) on intestacy of the testator. It might happen by coincidence, but that is not the definition. If any of those words fit, it will be remainderman, but since that’s a rather old-fashioned word unknown to the general public, people may want to write subsequent heir or final heir or something like that.

I haven’t got one law dictionary here that does not contain reversionary heir, sometimes alone (Dietl), sometimes as one alternative (Romain, von Beseler/Jacobs-Wüstefeld, Lister/Veth).

6 thoughts on “Nacherbe is *not* reversionary heir

  1. This comes up in connection with ‘nude proprietor/ proprietress’ – excuse the expression – in Romance lingos.

    I avoid reversionary heir, even if acceptable in the US, as confusable with a *reversioner* of a lease etc. i.e. the freeholder or superior landlord/lady to whom – as you rightly say – the premises revert at the end of the ‘demise’/letting.

  2. I can barely excuse that.I don’t think ‘reversionary heir’ is a US term. Google has mainly German and Austrian hits, and says ‘Meinten Sie “reversionary hair”?’
    Reutlinger’s ‘Wills, Trusts and Estates’ just has the familiar stuff: ‘Siegfried owns a fee simple absooute in Skeldale House. If he transfers a fee simple absolute to Tristan…’ – reversion and reverter.
    There were reversionary heirs under settlements, maybe, and perhaps ‘Nacherbe’ would work as a translation of that into English, if an explanation was given.

  3. Not quite. I finally asked a lawyer. If grantor names X as life tenant and Y as heir subsequent to X’s death, Y becomes a ‘remainderman’.

    If grantor names X as life tenant, but no one else after the death of X, a life estate in reversion is created. Upon death of X, the estate ‘reverts’ back to the estate of grantor, to be distributed to his heirs.

    • Hi Klaus,

      I’m not sure if I follow you. What you say is correct, but I’m not sure what you’re disagreeing with. The original question was whether it would be normal to translate ‘Nacherbe’ as ‘reversionary heir’. In the situation where a German testator named a life tenant but omitted to name a Nacherbe, the term Nacherbe would not be used, although I suppose that later on, in retrospect, it could be referred to as Nacherbe. But maybe we’re talking at cross purposes.

      • (Second reply, but the sequence has not been followed – Hi Klaus – btw I’m Margaret, not Marjorie! – what dictionary? Gifis, Merriam-Webster, something else? Even Black’s says the use of ‘heir’ is correctly applied to intestacy, and ‘loosely’ includes wills – Nacherbe implies a will. I use Mark Reutlinger on Wills, Trusts, and Estates – Essential Terms and Concepts, for US law. You are obviously referring to American law, which is very similar to English law, except that it still uses the word ‘heir’, and I don’t disagree with anything you wrote. Your English-language dictionary doesn’t actually use the word ‘Nacherbe’, I imagine. Anyway, I still warn against using reversioner to translate Nacherbe.

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