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Life Estate Deed Laws

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What is a Life Estate Deed?

A life estate deed is a transfer of a real estate interest.  In a life estate arrangement, the owner of the property transfers the deed to a tenant, who will retain possession of the property for the duration of their life.  This person is called the “life tenant”.  After the life tenant’s death, ownership of the property may revert back to the original owner, or it may pass to another person.  This recipient is called the “remainderman”. 

State laws can vary regarding life estate transfers.  The transfer may be accomplished through a written deed or through other documents, such as the property owner’s will.

Can Life Estate Deeds be Transferred?

If a person is granted life estate tenancy, the question often arises as to whether or not they can sell or transfer their life estate interest before they pass away.  In some cases, the agreement with the original property owner may allow them to transfer their interest, but only with the permission of the remainderman.  In other words, it’s usually up to the original property to state any terms of transfer. 

Again, this is usually contained in the deed transfer documents.  Also, any restrictions on transfers must adhere to state and local property laws.  This can often get quite complex and may require the assistance of an attorney when drafting the documents.

What is I Have a Dispute Over a Life Estate Deed?

Life estates disputes are generally resolved through a civil lawsuit.  This may result in a damages award issued to either the life tenant or the remainderman, depending on the losses experienced by each.  For example, a fraudulent transfer of a life estate interest can affect both the life tenant and the party whom the life estate is supposed to revert to.  This will usually require a detailed analysis of the deed documents; hence, it’s always best for the deed document to be preserved in writing and recorded with the county office. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Life Estate Deeds?

Drafting and reviewing life estate deeds and any other real estate documents usually requires the assistance of a lawyer.  If you have any questions or disputes over a life estate deed, you may wish to be matched with an experienced real estate attorney in your area.  Your attorney can assist you with the deed documents and can represent you in court if you need to file a legal claim.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 03-15-2018 10:34 PM PDT

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