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ASSESSMENT—ASSETS

that the annual visit to Wales was curtailed if not altogether discontinued. It is difficult to fix the date of Asser's arrival in England, but it was probably about 885. He assisted the king in his studies, received from him the monasteries of Congresbury and Banwell, and sometime later “Exeter and its diocese in Saxonland and Cornwall.” He became bishop of Sherborne before 900, and his death is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under the date 910, although it is possible that it occurred a year or two earlier. The scanty details of Asser's life are taken from his biography of Alfred, from which it is inferred that he was acquainted with one or two Frankish biographies, and possibly had visited the continent of Europe.

Asser's work, Annales rerum gestarum Alfredi magni, was written about 893, and consists of a chronicle of English history from 849 to 887, and an account of Alfred's life, largely drawn from personal knowledge, down to 887. The only manuscript of which there is any record dates from about 1000, and was destroyed by fire in 1731. From this manuscript an edition was printed in 1574 under the direction of Matthew Parker, archbishop of Canterbury; but this contained many interpolations and alterations which were copied by subsequent editors. The text has since been the subject of careful study, and the edition edited by W. H. Stevenson (Oxford, 1904) distinguishes between the original work of Asser and the later additions. Some doubt has been cast upon the authenticity of the work, especially by T. Wright in the Biographia Britannica literaria (London, 1842), who ascribes the life to a monk of St Neots; but the latest scholarship regards it as the work of Asser, although all the difficulties which surround the authorship have not been removed. The life was largely used by subsequent chroniclers, among others by Florence of Worcester, Simeon of Durham, Roger of Hoveden, and William of Malmesbury.

See W. H. Stevenson, Introduction to Asser's Life of King Alfred (Oxford, 1904); R. Pauli, Introduction to König Aelfred (Berlin, 1851).


ASSESSMENT, (from Lat. assessare, to sit beside, to judge), a term expressing either an official valuation of income or property for purposes of taxation, or the amount so determined (see Taxation and Valuation). It is also applied to the amount of damages fixed by a jury in a court of law (see Damages).

An assessment committee is a statutory committee appointed under the Union Assessment Acts 1862, 1880, for the purpose of making out the valuation lists upon which the poor-law rate is based.

An assessment policy, in life insurance, is a policy issued at a fixed premium, the excess of which over the portion necessary to meet current claims and expenses goes to form a reserve fund which is devoted to various forms of benefit for the policy-holders. See Insurance and Friendly Societies.

ASSESSOR (Lat. assessare, assidere, to sit by), a Roman term originally applied to a trained lawyer who sat beside a governor of a province or other magistrate, to instruct him in the administration of the laws (see Roll, De assessoribus magistratuum Romanorum, Leipzig, 1872). The system is still exemplified in Scotland, where it is usual in the larger towns for municipal magistrates, in the administration of their civil jurisdiction, to have the aid of professional assessors. In England, by the Judicature Act 1873, the court of appeal and the High Court may in any cause or matter call in the aid of assessors. The Patents Act 1907 makes special provision for assessors in patent and trade-mark cases. By the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1891 the House of Lords may, in appeals in admiralty actions, call in the aid of assessors, while in the admiralty division of the High Court it is usual for the Elder Brethren of Trinity House to assist as nautical assessors. In admiralty cases in the county courts, too, the judge is frequently assisted by assessors of “nautical skill and experience” (County Court Admiralty Jurisdiction Act 1868). In the ecclesiastical courts assessors assist the bishop in proceedings under the Church Discipline Act 1840, s. 11, while under the Clergy Discipline Act 1892, s. 2, they assist the chancellor in determining questions of fact. By the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876, s. 14, the king in council may make rules for the attendance of archbishops and bishops as assessors in the hearing of ecclesiastical cases by the judicial committee of the privy council.

The term “assessor” is also very generally applied to persons appointed to ascertain and fix the value of rates, taxes, &c., and in this sense the word is used in the United States.

In France and in all European countries where the civil law system prevails, the term assesseur is applied to those assistant judges who, with a president, compose a judicial court.

In Germany an Assessor, or Beisitzer, is a member of the legal profession who has passed four years in actual practice and become qualified for the position of a judge.

ASSETS (from the O. Nor. Fr. assetz, mod. Fr. assez, “enough”), in English law, strictly the property of a debtor in the hands of his representative sufficient for the satisfaction of his creditors or legatees. Thus the property of a bankrupt is termed his assets and is the fund out of which his liabilities must be paid. All property of the debtor is assets, and it is not necessary that it should have been reduced into possession by him.

The creditors of a debtor are either secured or unsecured. A secured creditor, e.g. a mortgagee, has a prior claim to be paid his debt out of his security. If on realization of the security there is a balance after paying the debt, such balance becomes assets for the unsecured creditors; if there is a deficit, then the creditor becomes an unsecured creditor for such deficit. The unsecured creditors were formerly divided into creditors by specialty and by simple contract, the first being creditors secured by instrument under seal who ranked in priority to simple contract creditors. But by Hinde Palmer’s Act [the Executors Act] 1869 all unsecured creditors rank alike.

Assets are divisible into legal assets and equitable assets, and the former class is again divisible into assets real and personal. These distinctions, though formerly of great importance, have now lost most of their meaning, but it is necessary briefly to describe the nature of these divisions and their consequences. The distinction between assets legal and equitable depends entirely upon the remedy open to the creditor to recover his debt and in no way upon the nature of the property from which the debt is sought to be recovered. If the creditor had to sue the executor of a debtor at law to obtain payment out of the property, that property was legal assets; but if the only remedy open to the creditor to get at the property was to bring an action in chancery for the administration of the estate, then the assets were equitable.

Legal assets, as has been said, were divided into real and personal assets. The personal assets were those which devolved virtute officii on the executor or administrator; such assets are since Hinde Palmer’s Act available equally for specialty and simple contract creditors. The real assets consisted of those descending to the heir or devised to a devisee, and were at law only liable for specialty debts. However, by the Land Transfer Act 1897 it is provided that the real estate of a deceased shall devolve upon the executor and “shall be administered in the same manner ... and with the same incidents as if it were personal estate.” The distinction, therefore, between assets real and personal has practically ceased to exist, and only continues in regard to such property as is not included in the act, the most important of which is land held in copyhold.

The equitable assets were treated otherwise. In the eyes of equity all unsecured creditors stand upon the same footing, and a creditor suing for administration of the estate sued on behalf of himself and all other creditors of the estate, and the distinction between specialty and simple contract creditors was ignored. Land was not at law liable to satisfy simple contract creditors; but if a testator expressly charged it with payment of his debts or devised it to his executors upon trust to pay his debts, equity treated it as equitable assets and so made it available to satisfy simple contract creditors; and finally by an act of 1833 it was provided that real estate should in all cases be assets to be administered by equity for the benefit of simple contract creditors as well as creditors by specialty. It will be seen therefore that, generally speaking, all creditors have now the same remedies against the executors