Abeyance (from the Old French abeance meaning "gaping"), a state of expectancy in respect of property, titles or office, when the right to them is not vested in any one person, but awaits the appearance or determination of the true owner. In law, the term abeyance can only be applied to such future estates as have not yet vested or possibly may not vest. For example, an estate is granted to A for life, with remainder to the heir of B, the latter being alive; the remainder is then said to be in abeyance, for until the death of B it is uncertain who his heir is. Similarly the freehold of a benefice, on the death of the incumbent, is said to be in abeyance until the next incumbent takes possession.
The most common use of the term is in the case of English peerage dignities. Most such peerages pass to heirs-male. But the ancient baronies created by writ pass instead to heirs-general, and some very old earldoms were created with a remainder to "heirs", although the only titles other than a barony that have gone into abeyance are the earldom of Arlington and the viscountcy of Thetford (which is united with the earldom; for further details, see Baron Arlington. If such a peerage is held by a man whose heir-at-law is neither a male, nor a woman who is an only child, on his death it goes into abeyance between two or more sisters or their heirs, and is held by no one till the abeyance is terminated. If eventually only one person represents the claims of all the sisters, he or she can claim the termination of the abeyance as a matter of right.
It is entirely possible for a peerage to remain in abeyance for centuries. For example, the Barony of Grey of Codnor was in abeyance for over 490 years between 1496 and 1989, and the Barony of Hastings was similarly in abeyance for over 299 years from 1542–1841. Some other baronies became abeyant in the thirteenth century, and the abeyance has yet to be terminated.
The crown can call the peerage out of abeyance on petition, in favour of any one of the sisters or their heirs between whom it is in abeyance.
Scottish peerage titles cannot go into abeyance. In Scotland, the eldest sister is preferred over younger sisters; sisters are not considered equal coheirs.
It is common, but incorrect, to speak of peerage dignities which are dormant (i.e. unclaimed) as being in abeyance.