- Being in a state of abeyance.
Abeyance (from the Old French abeance meaning "gaping"), a state of expectancy in respect of property, titles or office, when the right to them is not vested in any one person, but awaits the appearance or determination of the true owner. In law, the term abeyance can only be applied to such future estates as have not yet vested or possibly may not vest. For example, an estate is granted to A for life, with remainder to the heir of B. During B's lifetime, the remainder is in abeyance, for until the death of B it is uncertain who his heir is. Similarly the freehold of a benefice, on the death of the incumbent, is said to be in abeyance until the next incumbent takes possession.
Peerage lawThe most common use of the term is in the case of English peerage dignities. Most such peerages pass to heirs-male, but the ancient baronies created by writ, as well as some very old earldoms, pass instead to heirs-general, also known as male primogeniture. In this system, sons are preferred from eldest to youngest, the heirs of a son over the next son, and any son over daughters, but there is no preference among daughters: they or their heirs inherit equally.
If the daughter is an only child or her sisters are deceased and have no living issue, she (or her heir) is vested with the title; otherwise, since a peerage cannot be shared nor divided, the dignity goes into abeyance between the sisters or their heirs, and is held by no one. If through lack of issue, marriage or both, eventually only one person represents the claims of all the sisters, he or she can claim the dignity as a matter of right, and the abeyance is said to be terminated. On the other hand, the number of prospective heirs can grow quite large, since each share potentially can be divided between daughters.
A co-heir may petition the Crown for a termination of the abeyance. The Crown may choose to grant the petition, but if there is any doubt whatsoever as to the pedigree of the petitioner, the claim is normally referred to the Committee for Privileges. If the claim is unopposed, the Committee will generally award the claim, unless there is evidence of collusion, the peerage has been in abeyance for more than a century, or if the petitioner holds less than one-third of the claim.
It is entirely possible for a peerage to remain in abeyance for centuries. For example, the Barony of Grey of Codnor was in abeyance for over 490 years between 1496 and 1989, and the Barony of Hastings was similarly in abeyance for over 299 years from 1542 to 1841. Some other baronies became abeyant in the thirteenth century, and the abeyance has yet to be terminated. The only titles other than a barony that have yet gone into abeyance are the earldom of Arlington and the viscountcy of Thetford, which are united.
Titles in the Peerage of Scotland cannot go into abeyance. In Scotland, the eldest sister is preferred over younger sisters; sisters are not considered equal coheirs.
It is common, but incorrect, to speak of peerage dignities which are dormant (i.e. unclaimed) as being in abeyance.