Maltese Benefices, and Entailments

SOURCE: The Nobles of Malta 1530-1800, by John Montalto, Midseas Books Ltd, Malta 1979.

All Corrections/Additions are Welcome

Maltese Benefices
A benefice usually consisted in lands, which were either bequeathed or alienated, and their yields given to an ecclesiastic, the beneficiary who, originally, was know as rettore. The benefice became the financial cornerstone of the ecclesiastical institution supporting a large number of churchmen.

For most, it was the main, if not the only source of income. For the nobles and other prominent families, it had a special significance, ensuring that at least one of its members could have a secure revenue. Indirectly, it was a guarantee that the family would have an ecclesiastic in each succeding generation.

Maltese Entailments
The concept of entail is feudal in origin. It served to prevent the disintegration of estates through divided inheritance, even when there were no heirs. In fact, if the grantee died without heirs, the ential would automatically revert to the grantor and would be inherited in the manner prescribed in the entail. Fedecommesso, Primogenitura and Maggiorasco are all forms of ential. The Primary motive of the entail was the self-preservation of a family, because the entail ensured that the main line of the family would always be strong, both economically and socially.

The effects of entails were not only economic and social, but also legal. All lawsuits concerning entails were judged by the 'Supreme Magistracy of Justice' consisting of one President, six councillors and a secretary. Entails were valid before law but, in order to prevent abuse, there were also many legal obligations. For instance, individual entails were not legal if the other children (inheritors) did not receive a 'decent inheritance'.

Entailed Property (Distailment) Act, 1950. In virture of this act, which was passed by the Legislative Assembly on 1 May 1950, 'all fideicommissa of whatever nature on movables and immovables, created at any time, whether perpetual or temporary' were revoked and 'the affected properties were declared free from fetters by the holder of such moveables and immoveables'. The Act, however, did not apply 'to rights of advowson or to any form of jus-patronatus in ecclesiastical benefices, or to rights, temporary or perpetual, created either by a deed inter vivos or by a testament, whereby one or more persons are appointed to exercise or to enjoy those rights successivly'.

Corrections and updating.