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What Is A Life Estate And How To Use It?

By Kevin Vitali | March 20, 2023
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A life estate is a type of property ownership or tenancy that grants an individual the right to use and enjoy a property for the remainder of their life. While giving an ownership interest to someone else.

The individual who holds the life estate, known as the life tenant, is entitled to live in and use the property as they see fit. But they do not have the right to sell or transfer the property to someone else.

A life estate is often created through a legal document, such as a will or trust, and it can be used to transfer property to a beneficiary while still allowing the original owner to live in or use the property until they die. 

The recorded deed will also reference that a property is a life estate and name the life tenant.

Once the life tenant passes away, the property passes to the remainderman, who is the individuals or individual who will inherit the property after the life estate ends.

Why Would You Want to Have a Life Estate?

There are several reasons why someone might want to have a life estate. Here are a few of the most common:

Estate Planning

One of the most common reasons for creating a life estate is for estate planning purposes.

By transferring property into a life estate, the original owner can ensure that the property will pass to a designated beneficiary without the need for probate.  It is also used for the purpose of Medicare planning.

This can be particularly useful for individuals who want to avoid the time, expense, and complexity of the probate process.

Asset Protection

Another reason someone might create a life estate is for asset protection.

The original owner can protect the property from creditors and other potential liabilities by transferring the property into a life estate.

 This can be particularly useful for individuals in a high-risk profession or with significant debts or legal issues.

Family Dynamics

A life estate can also be used to address family dynamics and ensure that everyone is taken care of.

For example, a parent might create a life estate to ensure that their adult child can live in the family home for the remainder of their life.

This can be particularly useful when the parent wants to ensure that the child is taken care of but does not want to give them outright ownership of the property.

Tax Planning

Finally, a life estate can be used for tax planning purposes.

By transferring property into a life estate, the original owner can reduce their taxable estate and potentially lower their estate tax liability.

This can be particularly useful for individuals with a large estate who want to minimize their heirs' tax burden.

How Does a Life Estate Work?

When a life estate is created, the property is divided into two parts: the life estate and the remainder interest.

The life tenant has the right to use and enjoy the property during their lifetime, while the remainderman has the right to inherit the property after the life estate ends.

One particularly important point to remember with a life estate is the ownership is broken down into possession and ownership.  The life tenant has possession and ownership until they pass away the remainderman has ownership only.

The life tenant is responsible for maintaining the property and paying for necessary repairs. They are also responsible for paying property taxes and any other expenses associated with the property.

Once the life tenant passes away, the property passes to the remainderman, who becomes the new owner of the property. The remainderman has the right to sell, transfer, or otherwise dispose of the property as they see fit.

It is important to note that the life tenant cannot sell or transfer the property without the consent of the remainderman.

If the life tenant attempts to sell or transfer the property without consent, the transfer will be invalid.

Conclusion

A life estate can be a useful tool for estate planning.

By creating a life estate, an individual can ensure that their property is transferred to a designated beneficiary. There will be no need to probate the property. The property will be protected from creditors and any liabilities. And address family issues in a fair and equitable manner.

If you are considering creating a life estate, it is important to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney who can help you understand the pros and cons of a life estate and explore other options if necessary. 

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About Kevin: Kevin has been a full time agent for almost 18 years.Kevin works the Haverhill MA Real Estate market as well as Essexand Northern Middlesex Counties in Massachusetts.Kevin is a regular blogger who enjoys educating consumers about how to make the most of their next home purchase or sale.Kevin can be reached at 978-360-0422.
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