What is a Life Estate?

A life estate is a unique type of joint ownership where a homeowner grants another person partial ownership and residency rights until the homeowner's passing. This arrangement often proves advantageous for the new occupant, while also safeguarding the property's inheritance for the original owner's heirs.

With a life estate, there are typically three different parties involved: the grantor, the life tenant, and the remainderman. 


The grantor is the creator of the life estate, or the original owner of the property. When the life tenant dies, the estate can revert to the grantor, known as estate in reversion, or to another person, a remainderman, in estate in remainder. There are scenarios where the grantor can also be the life tenant.

Life Tenant

The life tenant is the individual that the original owner grants the rights of homeownership to, also known as the holder of the life estate. 

The life tenant will have both the benefits of living in the home, plus the responsibilities of homeownership, such as paying property taxes, retaining homeowner’s insurance, and upkeep of the property. Upon the death of the life tenant, the property will return to the original owner or to another party, known as the remainderman.

In the event that the grantor dies before the life tenant, the ownership of the property would also transfer at that time to the remainderman. 


The remainderman is who will get ownership of the property when the life tenant and/or the grantor dies.

Life Estate Examples

A life estate can serve multiple purposes, particularly when the original owner desires to transfer property ownership to another person upon their passing. This arrangement allows the intended heir to bypass probate and substantial capital gains taxes, all while reaping the associated advantages. A prevalent scenario entails a parent's wish to bequeath their home to their child when they pass away.

An illustration of this is when a parent arranges a life estate, becoming the life tenant, while designating their child as the remainderman. This arrangement grants the parent the privilege of residing in their home throughout their lifetime, while seamlessly transferring the property to their child upon their passing.

Consider the scenario where a spouse, who has a child from a previous marriage, establishes a life estate. This arrangement designates the current spouse as the life tenant and the child as the remainderman. With such an arrangement, the grantor ensures that their child will inherit the property upon their passing, while also providing a home for both the grantor and their current spouse.

In conclusion, a life estate is a unique legal arrangement that allows property owners to transfer their property to another person upon their death, while retaining the right to live in it for the duration of their lifetime. It involves three parties - the grantor, the life tenant, and the remainderman. This arrangement can serve as an effective estate planning tool, helping to avoid probate, reduce taxes, and ensure that the property goes to the intended heir. Whether it's a parent wishing to pass their home to a child, or a spouse wanting to provide for their current partner while also securing their child's inheritance, a life estate provides a practical solution.

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