Escheat is the forfeiture of property by operation of law. At common law there were two main ways this could happen.
- If you were convicted of a felony, in English law, your property was forfeit to the Crown upon conviction. If you were executed for the crime, your heirs were ineligible to inherit it from you. Avoiding this result is the chief import of the passage in Article 3 § 3 of the United States Constitution which states that attainders for treason do not give rise to forfeiture or "corruption of blood."
- If you have no other heir to receive your property by the laws of intestacy, however they may operate in your locality, any property you leave at death is forfeit to the government. This result can be avoided if the decedent makes a Last Will and Testament.