The information below originally appeared as part of the Minnesota Home Talk Legal Minute. To hear an audio version, click here. You can hear my Legal Minute segments during the show every Saturday on 1500 ESPN at 7 a.m. and On Demand.
A “life estate” is an ownership interest in land that lasts for a person’s life and ends at death. The owner of a life estate is called a “life tenant”. Property owners will use life estates to convey ultimate ownership in property, such as their home, to their heirs, many times their children, and reserve a life estate for themselves in the hopes of avoiding probate. It’s usually not used between husband and wife.
Ownership of a life estate is of limited duration because it ends at the death of the person who is the “measuring life.” The life tenant has the right to use and enjoy the property during his or her lifetime, including income derived from rent or other uses of the property, during his or her possession. A life estate cannot be left to heirs or devisees. At death, the life estate ceases and the fee owner of the property holds the property outright.
Once the underlying ownership is given away the original owner no longer has full control of the property. He or she can no longer change ownership or change his or her beneficiary without agreement of the fee owner. Life estates have pitfalls; hence, careful consultation with a knowledgeable attorney is essential.
To hear other Legal Minute segments, visit the Minnesota Home Talk page on Jeffrey O’Brien Today.