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The language of the law. Part Latin, part Anglo-Saxon, all confusing.

Today’s word is coparceners.

It popped up in yesterday’s blog on deeds,1 hidden away in the definition of deeds of partition (“A species of primary or original conveyance between two or more joint tenants, coparceners, or tenants in common…”)2 — and it had reader Larry Head wondering.

“What,” he asked, “are coparceners? And (in the case of real property), are joint tenants and/or tenants in common literally occupants?”

Yeah, the word “coparceners” isn’t exactly something even The Legal Genealogist comes across in everyday speech, that’s for sure. But it’s a simple term with a simple easy meaning — and part of its definition helps answer the second part of Larry’s question.

“Coparceners,” Black’s Law Dictionary says, are simply “persons to whom an estate of inheritance descends jointly, and by whom it is held as an entire estate.”3 So, for example, when a will leaves a piece of real property to “all my children” or “all my daughters” the initial ownership of that land is a coparcenary:

A species of estate, or tenancy, which exists where lands of inheritance descend from the ancestor to two or more persons. It arises in England either by common law or particular custom. By common law, as where a person, seised in fee-simple or fee-tail, dies, and his next heirs are two or more females, his daughters, sisters, aunts, cousins, or their representatives; in this case they all inherit, and these coheirs are then called “coparceners,” or, for brevity, “parceners” only.

While joint tenancies refer to persons, the idea of coparcenary refers to the estate. The title to it is always by descent. The respective shares may be unequal; as, for instance, one daughter and two granddaughters, children of a deceased daughter, may take by the same act of descent. As to strangers, the tenants’ seisin is a joint one, but, as between themselves, each is seised of his or her own share, on whose death it goes to the heirs, and not by survivorship. The right of possession of coparceners is in common, and the possession of one is, in general, the possession of the others.4

That second paragraph is the key: the term really refers to the land itself and describes the way it’s owned. You’d refer to the owners differently, as joint tenants. And no, they don’t all have to occupy the land — in fact, none of them has to occupy any portion of it. It’s a description of ownership only.

How it stops being a coparcenary and ends up as separate tracts is a process called partition… and a post for another day…


  1. Judy G. Russell, “A deed indeed,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 4 Apr 2013 ( : accessed 5 Apr 2013).
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 873-874, “partition, deed of.”
  3. Ibid., 275, “coparceners.”
  4. Ibid., “coparcenary.”
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