The Swedish “fideikomiss” derives from the Latin “fideicommissum” but in English property law it is more commonly known as an “entailed estate”.
As early as 1686, a law was enacted that made it possible to keep larger properties together by not dividing them during inheritance. This has meant that collections of historical, cultural and scientific value could be preserved for the future. The same applies to buildings and agricultural land as well as areas of nature conservation interest that are of great importance for outdoor life.
Most fideocommisums were created in the second half of the 18th century and when they were at their peak there were 217 in total. An interesting detail is that during the period 1686-1770 every third fideicommissum was established by a woman. Today, there are only ten fideicommissums that manage real estate left.
The fideicommissum has had great significance for Swedish cultural history in that the construction made it possible for significant collections of, for example, books, art and furniture to be kept together for generations. This also applies to historically interesting buildings and land. In addition to research and other scientific purposes, a large number of fideicommisums have also opened their doors to the public.
Fideicommissum is probably unsurpassed when it comes to saving culturally-historically interesting buildings, real estate and art collections from being dispersed or sold in difficult inheritances. Other discussed models can preserve properties and collections only at the cost of making them dead museum objects. The fideicommissum secures a living legacy in the sense that the properties are used for what they were built for, to be used and lived in, most preferably by someone who, in person or family, has a living connection with the fideicommissum and the history of the area. By the fact that the original family remains, the story is connected with a family that is still alive and has descendants.
Each time has its own conditions and the principle of fideicommissum has often been debated. That one person, usually the eldest son, inherits everything and then in turn passes it on to his eldest son has been seen as untimely. This construction has sometimes caused family disputes and has also been politically questioned.
This led to a new law coming into effect on January 1, 1964, which simply meant that the fideicommissum was to be abolished. In exceptional cases, the government can decide on an extension of the fideicommissum deed’s provisions if the property has particularly cultural-historical value or there are other special reasons for extension.
What is a fideicommissum and what significance do they have today?
The holders of the remaining Swedish fideicommissums have formed Fideikommissariernas intresseorganisation, FIO. The chairman is Carl Johan Cronstedt, Fullerö.
-You can compare a fideicommissum to a trust with a soul, he says. Because today’s trust is really nothing more than a foundation – but always with a clear person who is responsible for it. It is actually the case that the fideicommissary must replace the fideicommissary after his death from the personal estate if the holder has deteriorated it during his time. And that’s not entirely unusual.
The word fideicommissum comes from the Latin fideicommissum, which translated means “entrusted with honor and conscience”. The fideicommissum institute originally comes from southern Europe, mainly Italy. In most cases, the settlor’s purpose should be an ambition to preserve a property within his family for all time by protecting it from division during inheritance.
Property that is held with fideicommissary rights is owned in a formal sense by the holder, the fideicommissary, but with a limited right of disposal: For example, the property may not be sold or mortgaged without permission from the government. If such permission is obtained, the capital must be preserved within the fideicommissum according to the principle that the holder may never appropriate the substance of the fideicommissum, only its return.
In Sweden, the right to establish fideicommissum was regulated by the 1686 testamentary statute. The establishment of fideicommissum had also taken place before that, but it was only then that it was regulated by law. In Sweden, most fideicommissums were established in the second half of the 18th century. In 1810, the establishment of a fideicommissum of immovable property was prohibited, however, it was possible to establish a fideicommissum of movable property right up until 1930.
How it happened
A fideicommissum is added by the founder writing a document, typically through a will. The record states which property applies and how it is to be traded. This means that a fideicommissum is not in a formal sense an inheritance from the immediately preceding holder, but how the fideicommissum right is transferred is determined solely by the deed. A fideicommissum can often be transferred from one holder to another who is not the previous holder’s heir according to the rules of the Inheritance Code. The most common among Swedish fideicommissums is that it has been handed down from father to eldest son. However, there are a number of fideicommissums that have been fully or partially on the women’s line or according to other regulations. Not least, women have been important as founders of fideicommissums.
Who was allowed to set up a fideicommissum?
Anyone could set up a fideicommissum. It was not a noble privilege although most of the founders belonged to the nobility. A limiting rule was that fideicommissum could not be founded on land that was inherited, only on land that the founder himself had acquired. Unlike in some other countries, Swedish “fideikommiss” has never been a fief received from the state.
The existence or non-existence of the fideicommissum was debated for a long time. In 1963, the Riksdag passed the law on liquidation of fideicomissums. The main rule of this law is that a fideicommissum must be wound up at the time when the person who held the fideicommissum at the time of the law’s enactment dies. The property must then be distributed according to the liquidation act’s rules, which means that the person who would have joined the fideicommissary has the right to half the property, while the other half must be distributed as if it had been the private property of the last fideicommissary.
Already when the law was introduced, however, it was seen that a liquidation of the fideicommissum risked leading to great damage to cultural values. Therefore, it was decided that the government would have the right to order that the record should continue to be valid if this was considered justified based on public interests.
Furthermore, there is an opportunity to form so-called fideicommissum share companies. These companies aim to keep the property of the fideicommissum intact in order to preserve the cultural values that there is a public interest in preserving. A number of fideicommissum companies have been formed, but this is not something that the government can decide on unilaterally, but must be done on the initiative of the successor, alternatively by the fideicommissary. The government has used the possibility of extension on a few occasions when it has been assessed as the best way to safeguard public interests.
How many and which fideicommissums are not yet dismantled?
13 fideicommissums have not been dismantled. 5 are permanent where the holder held the fideicommissum from the time before the Dismantling Act, 4 are extended and 4 where the holder has died without the dismantling having yet been completed.
Permanent: Christinehof and Högestad, Heby, Koberg and Gåsevadholm, Näsbyholm, Refvelsta and Göksbo, Trolle-Ljungby and Årup
Extended: Björnstorp and Svenstorp, Boo, Fullerö, Övedskloster
Deceased, not yet dismantled: Mindre Ankarcronska, Erstavik, Sturefors
(article translated from Swedish to English from fideikommiss.se)
(image source: Örebro stadsarkiv / Sam Lindskog via Wikimedia)