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Escheater

 The Escheator was a term used by the Normans to describe the official appointed by the King to examine the legal right of ownership when somebody died. This was a position that was open to bribery and is the probable origin of the word to ‘cheat’. This was later replaced by the Court of Wards and Liveries which protected the interest of the Exchequer but still left beneficiaries of wills open to exploitation.
 An Eschater’s role was to review the information about the evidence that a person had the right to own the property. If there was insufficient evidence, or the person who had died had committed a crime, the land reverted to the king.
 This was a time when few people could read or write so documentary evidence would have been scarce. It was also a time when the law of the sword often took precedence over such niceties as a a scroll of parchment with sqiggles on it.
 This was also a time when there were few independent checks and balances so the Escheater could be influenced to favour one of the plaintives. It would also be relatively easy to ‘prove’ the land belonged to him or somebody else who paid him.
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