Si aliquis liber homo intestatus decesserit, catalla sua per manus propinquorum parentum et amicorum suorum, per visum ecclesiae distribuantur, salvis unicuique debitis quae defunctus ei debebat.
If any free man shall die intestate, his chattels are to be distributed by his nearest kinsmen on both sides of his family, under the supervision of the church, but saving to everyone the debts which the dead man owed him.
Clause 27, dealing with intestacy, was an appropriate sequel to Clause 26, which provided for the execution of free men’s testaments after their debts to the king had been paid, by stipulating how the goods of men who had died intestate, having made no testament at all, were to be disposed of. Making a testament – which was concerned with movable goods, whereas a will directed what was to be done with landed property – was by the early thirteenth century increasingly seen as a religious obligation, whereby a dying man bequeathed a third of his goods for the salvation of his soul (the other two thirds were reserved for his widow and children). But although it became established that intestacy was an offence against God’s law, attempts in the years around 1170 to make it an infringement of the king’s law as well came to nothing, and it was increasingly regarded as something to be dealt with by the church. Paradoxically, the most notable exceptions to this rule were bishops who died intestate. References to either King John or his predecessors taking the goods of intestates are scanty and often ambiguous, so that it is not surprising that Clause 27 was dropped from later reissues of Magna Carta, or that after 1215 intestacy became very largely an ecclesiastical concern.
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