No. 26.
Mr. Tree to Mr. Bayard.

No. 116.]

Sir: Referring to your No. 41 of the 3d ultimo, concerning an estate of $400,000 said to have been left about one hundred years ago by one Hannah Rouk, in Belgium, I have the honor to report to you that, under the law pertaining to Belgium, there is a central office of registry at Brussels, in which are kept records of all unclosed estates in the Kingdom. There are also local offices of registry in every commune throughout the Kingdom, in which records are kept of the unclosed estates in each of them, and the authorities thereof are required by law to report to the central registry office at Brussels in each instance, the opening of an estate in consequence of the death of a person in such commune. This is the way in which the archives of the central registry office at the seat of Government are made up. This central registry office has been in existence since the date of the law of the 22d Frimaire, an VII (November 12, 1798). Prior to that period, under Austrian rule only, the local registries of the communes existed.

Through the kindness of the minister of foreign affairs, whose aid I invoked, I have had the archives of the central office of registry searched as far back as they extend—that is, to November 12, 1708—and no trace has been discovered of any such estate as that mentioned by you or by the letter of Mr. Ostrander.

It is evident, after the explanation of the law which I have given, that the search cannot be pursued beyond November 12, 1798, and into the local registries, without at least knowing the place of decease of Hannah Rouk.

The law of Belgium with reference to successions of estates, and limitations on the power to prosecute supposed claims or rights in such matters, I understand to be as follows:

If the deceased leaves neither heritable relatives nor natural children, the estate belongs to the surviving wife or husband, if either exists. (Art. 767 of the Code Civil.)

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In default of surviving wife or husband, the succession goes to the State. (Art. 768, ibid.)

All estates vacant and without masters, and those of persons who die without heirs, or of which the succession is abandoned, belong to the public domain. (Art. 539, ibid.)

Estates which are without masters belong to the state. (Art. 713, ibid.)

The power to accept or repudiate a succession to an estate is laid down to be the lapse of time required for the longest limitation for the assertion of rights to landed property. (Art. 789, ibid.)

The language of the law is as follows:

La faculté d’accepter ou de répudier une succession se prescrit par le laps de temps requis pour la prescription la plus longue des droits immobiliers.

Article 2262 of the Civil Code declares that all actions real and personal are limited to 30 years.

In view of the provisions of article 2262, the settled interpretation given to article 789 by the Belgian courts is that the right of inheritance is limited to 30 years. After the lapse of this time the heir having lost his hereditary right is no longer an heir; he is a stranger to the succession, and can from thenceforth neither accept nor repudiate. The decisions, of course, make the ordinary saving with reference to minors and insane persons.

To return now to the office of central registry, after an unclosed estate has been carried on its archives for 30 years, without claimant, a judgment of court is entered after due notice declaring the property to belong to the state.

So far as I have been able to have the records searched, upon the evidence furnished no trace of any such estate as that mentioned can be found, and it would seem from the laws to which I have made reference that if any such estate ever existed the rights of claimants have been long since barred by lapse of time.

I have, &c.,