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Life Estates

By: J.A.J Aaronson - Updated: 25 Oct 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Life Estate Property Death Widow

Life estates have become an important, if sometimes little-used, tool when planning for inheritance of property. Although provision for such arrangements was not available in early common property law, their use has since become widespread.

Arranging Inheritance

A life estate is a useful way of ensuring that the inheritance of your property occurs in the way in which you would like. It is most frequently used by couples who wish to pass down property after their death. In its most basic terms, when someone has a life estate in a piece of property, almost all of the rights to that property are conveyed upon them, with a few fundamental exceptions. In contrast to simple ownership of the property, however, the 'life tenant' possesses these rights only until their death. They are a tenant, therefore, because the term of their control of the property is fixed.

In most cases, the property in question is a house and its contents. A life estate, or life tenancy, gives the current owner of the property the opportunity to stipulate the details of two stages in the process of succession of the property, rather than the one stage that they would have control over if they simply left it to an individual in a will.

One of the most common circumstances in which a life estate might be established occurs when an individual is widowed or divorced, and subsequently remarries. Imagine, for example, that it is decided that the widow or widower's new husband or wife will sell their own property and move into the formers house. The widowed individual wishes for his or her own children to ultimately inherit the property, as it was their original family home. However, they also wish for their new spouse to continue to have somewhere to live if they were to outlive the first individual. In this case, a life estate would be very useful. The new spouse could become a life tenant, enjoying almost all of the rights to the property; but this arrangement would only last until the new spouse's death, at which time the property would be passed to the children of the widow or widower. In the time that the new spouse is still alive, therefore, they would take on the responsibility of ensuring that the property remains in a similar state to that in which it was left by the widow or widower, and would be legally prevented from selling it.

Process

A life estate can be created in a number of different ways, the most popular being a stipulation in a will. While they are a very useful legal function they can, however, prove difficult to arrange; the legal detail of a life estate must be clear and correct and, as such, it is always advisable to take the advice of a solicitor, rather than attempting to carry out the process yourself. Similarly, the arrangement itself can cause friction within families, as the family of the life tenant sometimes consider it to be a personal snub. Consequently, such matters must be treated with great care.

When arranging a life estate, however, you should remember that the property being passed down is yours and, as such, you should be free to do as you please with it without unwanted influence from third parties.

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[Add a Comment]
Pete - Your Question:
Can I purchase a home for my ex and arrange to pay half of the repayments each but set up a lifetime tenancy for him as the loan has to be in my name.

Our Response:
If you arrange to pay half the repayments each would he not expect his name to be on the title deeds too?
TheWillExpert - 25-Oct-17 @ 12:31 PM
An enquiry for my elderly neighbour. He is a life tenant (the property goes to his step daughter). He has had to move into a nursing home at present. If this move is permanent, can a charge be put on the property by Social services/sell the house to assist paying for his care?
Solv - 25-Oct-17 @ 8:03 AM
Can I purchase a home for my ex and arrange to pay half of the repayments each but set up a lifetime tenancy for him as the loan has to be in my name.
Pete - 23-Oct-17 @ 5:07 AM
sack- Your Question:
I am a life tenant. step son has padlocked garage. does garage form part of my home, garage is in a block. electricity connected and paid for by me.

Our Response:
You should check the terms of the life interest trust to see what it incorporates.
TheWillExpert - 9-Oct-17 @ 3:25 PM
I am a life tenant.step son has padlocked garage.does garage form part of my home, garage is in a block.electricity connected and paid for by me.
sack - 9-Oct-17 @ 12:46 AM
jj - Your Question:
I am a life tenant and should be grateful for advice as to the possible disadvantages. - Can I sell the property and buy a new house with my daughter? If so when I die will she have to sell that house and give a percentage of a fixed sum to the beneficiaries of the trust. Or, if I have to go into a care home can I sell the house to fund my care?

Our Response:
If you are a life tenant you do not own the property any longer (but live in it rent-free) so cannot sell it. Did you mean something else?
TheWillExpert - 20-Jan-17 @ 2:30 PM
I am a life tenant and should be grateful for advice as to the possible disadvantages. -Can I sell the property and buy a new house with my daughter? If so when I die will she have to sell that house and give a percentage of a fixed sum to the beneficiaries of the trust. Or, if I have to go into a care home can I sell the house to fund my care?
jj - 19-Jan-17 @ 12:33 PM
if life tenant has to go in home can the property be soldby people inheriting it ?
fish - 31-Dec-16 @ 2:15 PM
When an executor/beneficiary and has been given a life estate but has been proven to have stolen nearly £500,000.00 from the testator, will they still be entitled to anything in the eyes of the law?Although we are going ensure he has a roof over his head as this is what the testator wanted.What are the chances of him being taken off the Will as a beneficiary? In my eyes he does not deserve anything as harsh as that sounds, but what will the court be likely to think?It is with the solicitor at the moment but I just wanted your opinion for when we have to mediate. Many thanks
J - 18-Aug-16 @ 2:42 PM
J - Your Question:
What if the person who has a 'life tenancy' wants to move into a care home, what happens to the property. Can it be rented out if the property is to be kept in the family or does it have to be sold?

Our Response:
The person/people who would inherit the propertywould decide this, but should also discuss this with the person going in to care (or whoever has power of attorney for them). It may be that the property can be rented out to pay for the care instead of being sold.
TheWillExpert - 17-Aug-16 @ 9:50 AM
What if the person who has a 'life tenancy' wants to move into a care home, what happens to the property. Can it be rented out if the property is to be kept in the family or does it have to be sold?
J - 16-Aug-16 @ 12:17 AM
Gee - Your Question:
I am a life tenant my shower is not working and needs replaced. Whose responsibility is it? The co owners or the life tenant

Our Response:
It is your resposibility to ensure that the property remains in a good state until your death.
TheWillExpert - 9-May-16 @ 10:30 AM
I am a life tenant my shower is not working and needs replaced. Whose responsibility is it? The co owners or the life tenant
Gee - 6-May-16 @ 5:34 AM
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