What Is the Most Complete Form of Ownership in Real Estate?

An interest in real property means that someone has the authority or the right to do something on that property, such as live on it and enjoy the profits made by it. There are varying degrees of ownership interests. The most complete form, fee simple, allows the owners to do practically anything, while the lesser forms of ownership are more restrictive.

Sole Ownership of a Parcel of Property in Fee Simple

"Fee simple" denotes complete ownership in a parcel of property. If one person owns a parcel of property in fee simple, she has the most complete form of ownership allowed by law. She may do with the property practically anything she chooses. The estate lasts perpetually and may be transferred from heir to heir. There are few limitations regarding fee simple ownership. According to Insuranceproviders.com, the property is still subject to taxes, eminent domain and searches or seizures pursuant to the government's police power.

Joint Ownership in Fee Simple

If more than one person owns a parcel of property in fee simple, the property is owned jointly in fee simple. There is a slight limit to ownership under jointly held property, as each of the owners has an equal right to use and enjoy the property; the other owners cannot prevent each other from exercising their property rights. A common form of joint ownership is "joint ownership with the right of survivorship." Under this form, the ownership interests do not pass to the owners' heirs upon death. Rather, when there is one remaining owner, that person owns the property outright as the sole owner in fee simple.

Life Estates

In contrast to fee simple, there are limitations on complete ownership. A life estate, for example, allows the owner to use the property only for the duration of that person's life. When the life estate holder dies, the property passes to someone named in the deed. The language granting the property interest might look like "To my wife, for her life, and then to my children in fee simple." Under this form, even if the wife sold the property, she could only sell her life interest, and when the wife died, the property would still pass to her children.


The most restrictive and least complete form of ownership is a leasehold. Under a leasehold, the person on the property does not "own" the property, but has permission to use and enjoy the land. The most common example of this is a rental agreement.