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Saturday, 7 December 2013

Law of Trusts: Life Estate

The simplest form of property ownership is a fee simple absolute in possession. A “fee simple absolute” means that the owner has a 100% undivided interest in the property. S/He can use it, sell or convey it, and leave it to someone via a Will.
Fee – inheritable interest in land
Simple – property could be inherited by heirs
Absolute – No restrictions

With a life estate, however, the person holding the life estate has only a partial interest in a property; this person is known as the "life tenant." A person who has a life estate is entitled to enjoy full use of the property during his lifetime, but does not have the right to confer the property upon his death. As a full owner, the life tenant can live on the property, build and/or renovate, rent, or sell the property.

When a life estate is created, the documents must stipulate who the property will go to (a remainderman) upon the life tenant's death. This person cannot take possession of the property until the life tenant's death.  
For example, if John dies and leaves his home "to Joe for life, and then to Jane," Jane is a remainderman because she will inherit the home in the future, after Joe dies.

When a life tenant dies, the remainderman's interest in the property immediately becomes active. This is true even if the life tenant attempted to leave the property in a Will to someone else, or has sold the property. A life tenant is unable to grant a greater interest than he himself has in the property, so any attempt by the life tenant to pass the property onto to someone else in a Will is invalid.

The fact that the life tenant's interest ends upon his death means that if he sells the property to someone else, their (the buyer’s) interest ends immediately upon the life tenant's death

*Another limitation on a life estate is the legal doctrine of waste, which prohibits life tenants from damaging or devaluing the property.


  1. Good night,

    First and foremost, thank you for the prompt response and informative post. It was greatly appreciated and most certainly clarified a tremendous deal.

    If I may, one minor clarification however, if the said owner of the property in His will leaves the property to someone else or has no will and his heirs claim the property upon his death, is the life tenant legally entitled to retain his percentage of “ownership” that he was allocated from the owner. Or does this agreement become null and void, the property taken away from the life tenant and his subsequent future remainderman.

    Again, thanking you in advance for your time.

  2. Good day,

    Does the remainderman have the right to enter at will on the property while the life tenant is alive?

  3. Good Day,

    My name is mentioned in a will left by my deceased mother, and my brother is named "Executor". Up to 3 months after the will has been probated, I have not received any information from my brother as to the contents of the will. What can be done about that?

  4. Good day,
    If a remainderman is joint between two siblings, (A and P) and A has been living on property for approx. 30 yrs. Married for 20 yrs with children and maintained the property since with spouse also investing monies into building, eg. bills and raised value of property, and P never spent any money.

    What rights does the spouse and children have?

  5. After liveing in a house for the past 23 years can i be evicted even though i was not paying rent

  6. I have been living in a house with my wife an children for the past 23 years now my wife an children has since moved out my question is can i be evicted


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