What is a Life Estate Deed?

The short answer is a Life Estate Deed is a document that grants ownership of a parcel of real property to two separate parties: (1) the Life Tenant, and (2) the Remainderman.

The Life Tenant
The deed gives the Life Tenant complete use and ownership of the property for a certain period of time.
That period of time is measured by the life of a natural person; usually the Life Tenant’s. In other words, if I am the Life Tenant and the time period is measured by my life then when I pass away the “life tenancy” automatically terminates. However, if the time period is measured by the life of my wife and my wife passes away before me the Life Estate automatically terminates upon her passing and I can legally be evicted from the property.

The Remainderman
When the Life Estate owned by the Life Tenant terminates, the Life Estate Deed transfers ownership of the property to the Remainderman. The Remainderman is the person or persons whose names are listed on the Life Estate Deed as a Remainderman. To officially transfer ownership, in most states the Remainderman need only record the death certificate of the person whose life was the measure of the Life Estate.

Transferring a Life Estate
A Life Estate may be transferred from the Life Tenant to any other person. However, the person to whom the Life Estate is transferred takes ownership subject to the same conditions as the original Life Tenant. This is so even if the person is unaware of the Life Estate.

A Life Estate may be transferred using a Warranty Deed. The Warranty Deed must contain the state specific Life Estate language to create a valid Life Estate.

Obligations of the Life Tenant
A Life Tenant owes certain duties and obligations to the Remainderman. The Life Tenant is required to pay real estate taxes assessed against the property during the Life Tenancy, protect the property from tax sales, and keep the property free from encumbrances and not to allow the property to just go to waste.

A Life Estate is different from an Enhanced Life Estate. You can read my other articles on the Enhanced Life Estate Deed for a greater understanding of the differences.
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