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Most nobles' wealth derived from one or more estates, large or small, that might include fields, pasture, orchards, timberland, hunting grounds, streams, etc.
Peasants were not only bound to the nobility by dues and services, but the exercise of their rights was often also subject to the jurisdiction of courts and police from whose authority the actions of nobles were entirely or partially exempt.
Hereditary titles often distinguish nobles from non-nobles, although in many nations most of the nobility have been un-titled, and a hereditary title need not ipso facto indicate nobility (e.g., vidame).
Some countries have had non-hereditary nobility, such as the Empire of Brazil.
Since the end of World War I the hereditary nobility entitled to special rights has largely been abolished in the Western World as intrinsically discriminatory, and discredited as inferior in efficiency to individual meritocracy in the allocation of societal resources.
Nobility came to be associated with social rather than legal privilege, expressed in a general expectation of deference from those of lower rank.
In modern usage, "nobility" is applied to the highest social class in pre-modern societies, excepting the ruling dynasty.