The process and mechanics of ownership are fairly complex: one can gain, transfer, and lose ownership of property in a number of ways. To acquire property one can purchase it with money, trade it for other property, win it in a bet, receive it as a gift, inherit it, find it, receive it as damages, earn it by doing work or performing services, make it, or homestead it. One can transfer or lose ownership of property by selling it for money, exchanging it for other property, giving it as a gift, misplacing it, or having it stripped from one's ownership through legal means such as eviction, foreclosure, seizure, or taking. Ownership is self-propagating in that the owner of any property will also own the economic benefits of that property.
Over the millennia and across cultures, notions regarding what constitutes "property" and how it is treated culturally have varied widely. Ownership is the basis for many other concepts that form the foundations of ancient and modern societies such as money, trade, debt, bankruptcy, the criminality of theft, and private vs. public property. Ownership is the key building block in the development of the capitalist socio-economic system. Adam Smith stated that one of the sacred laws of justice was to guard a person's property and possessions.
Individuals may own property directly. In some societies only adult men may own property; in other societies (such as the Haudenosaunee), property is matrilinear and passed on from mother to the offspring. In most societies both men and women can own property with no restrictions and limitations at all.
Throughout history, nations (or governments) and religious organizations have owned property. These entities exist primarily for other purposes than to own or operate property; hence, they may have no clear rules regarding the disposition of their property.
To own and operate property, structures (often known today as legal entities) have been created in many societies throughout history. The differences in how they deal with members' rights is a key factor in determining their type. Each type has advantages and disadvantages derived from their means of recognizing or disregarding (rewarding or not) contributions of financial capital or personal effort.