Life Estate Lawyers

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What Is A Life Estate?

A life estate is a present interest in property, usually real property. The unique feature of a life estate is that the interest in the property will end upon the death of a specified person, usually the person receiving the property. Upon death, the property will go to a future interest, either the original owner or a designated third party.

How Is A Life Estate Conveyed or Created?

A life estate is typically conveyed through an agreement between the parties.  A key element to the creation of a life estate is the granting of a right of possession in the property. Although the words "life estate" are not necessary to the creation, an express intent is preferred. 

What Types of Life Estates Exist?

Life estates are separated into three subdivisions:

Life Estate For The Life Of The Grantee

This type of life estate gives the person receiving the life estate all the estate property rights for the remainder of their life.

Life Estate Pur Autre Vie

This life estate takes its name from a French phrase, meaning "for the life of another." The holder of this life estate will have all the estate property rights for the remainder of someone else's life.

Life Estate Upon A Condition

This type of life estate has a condition that would cause the life estate holder to lose their interest if the condition occurred before the death of the life estate holder. If the condition never occurs, then the life estate holder would still lose their interest in the property upon their death, just like any other life estate holder.

What Rights and Duties Do Life Estate Holders Have?

A life estate holder has several rights and duties associated with the possession of a life estate. Below are only some of the common rights and duties:

Right of Possession

This is the key right of a life estate holder. The right of possession, control, and enjoyment of the property is exclusive and the life estate holder can use the property as they would like so long as the use does not cause permanent injury to the land (See liability for waste below).

Right to Wood and Crops

The right to wood allows the life estate holder to take necessary timber from the land. The right to crops allows the life estate holder to profit or take any crops harvested by the life estate holder.

Duty Not To Create Waste

The general rule is that the life estate holder cannot voluntarily or passively commit waste that causes permanent injury to the land. This is because the life estate holder has a responsibility to preserve the property for the person receiving the property after the life estate ends. Although there is no exact definition as to what waste is, the general rule of thumb is that the property should be in the same condition received save for normal wear and tear.

May I Sell or Lease My Life Estate?

Yes, a life estate can typically be sold and leased. In the case of a sale, however, the buyer will now have a life estate pur autre vie (See above) in the life of the seller with the interest ending upon the death of the seller. In the case of a lease, the person leasing the property will lose the lease upon the death of the life estate holder and will not be given the same notice protections of a standard lease holder.

May I Give My Life Estate To Another by Will?

No, a life estate may not be willed. When a life estate ends, the property will either go back to the original owner or a third party. Therefore, neither the life estate holder or his/her heirs have a future interest in the property once the life estate ends.

Do I Need An Estate or Property Lawyer?

Life estates are used to divide the property into present and future interests. If you are the owner of property and would like to divide your property into time interests, then an estate or property lawyer would best be able to construct a conveyance to fit your needs. Conversely, if you are presently the owner of a life estate interest, then seeking out an attorney would help you best understand your rights and obligations in the property interest.

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Last Modified: 09-29-2012 11:32 AM PDT

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