How Does a Person With a Life Estate Get Title to Property?

By John Cromwell

Life estates are a unique type of property ownership that allows different people to own land at different times. A life tenant owns and controls the property that is subject to a life estate for the rest of her life. Once the life tenant dies, another party, known as the remainderman, automatically receives the property and owns it outright. While the principle of life estates is straight forward, the administrative process of getting the property’s title in the name of the correct owner can be difficult. Property is subject to state law, so the process for transferring the title to life estate property will vary based on where it is located.

Executing the Life Estate Deed

Creating a life estate and transferring the title of the land to the life tenant requires executing a deed. On the deed you will need to provide the names of the people who own the property and are transferring it in the “grantor’s name” slot. If the property was purchased, you will also need to record the land’s price on the deed. Next you will need to record the names of remaindermen where it says “grantee’s name.” You will also need to provide the name of the county where the property is located, as well as the legal description and tax parcel number of the property. This information can be found on the land’s most recent property tax bill or mortgage documents. To create the life estate, write the name of the life tenant next to the property’s description and state that she “retains a life estate.” To complete the deed, the grantor must sign the deed in the presence of a notary public.

Delivering the Deed

The deed does not become binding until it is delivered. The easiest method of delivery is to give the document to the remaindermen. To protect her legal claim the remaindermen should “record” the deed by filing it with the Registry of Deeds in the county where the land is located. By recording the deed, the remainderman publicly establish their claim to the land, the life tenant’s rights to the property, and can serve as legal evidence regarding who owns the property in case of litigation.

Get a free, confidential bankruptcy evaluation. Learn More

When Life Tenant Dies

When the life tenant dies, while the property automatically reverts to the remainderman, it is necessary to take a few additional steps. The remainderman will need to obtain a copy of the life tenant’s death certificate and present it to the Registry of Deeds of the county where the property is located. In addition, the remainderman must provide an affidavit stating that the life tenant’s estate was not in excess of the federal estate tax exemption. If the estate was less than the exemption, the remainderman gets the property immediately. If the estate is more than the exemption, the remainderman gets the property after the life tenant’s estate tax has been paid.

Advantages of Life Estates

The chief advantage of a life estate is that it allows the property to be transferred to a person’s beneficiaries, such as children, without having to go through probate. Probate can be a long and expensive process. It also allows the life tenant to use the property for the rest of their life. Other estate planning methods require the owner to surrender ownership of property before her death.

Get a free, confidential bankruptcy evaluation. Learn More
Life Estate Laws


Related articles

How to Write a Deed With Power of Attorney

A real estate deed is a document representing legal ownership of a parcel of real estate. To transfer ownership of real estate, a new deed must be drawn up in favor of the purchaser or grantee. Normally, the seller, or grantor, must sign the new deed to transfer ownership. However, it is possible for a third party to execute a valid signature on a real estate deed, as long as the seller, or grantor, has executed an appropriately-worded power of attorney authorizing an agent to do so.

Real Estate Laws for Lifetime Rights to Land in North Carolina

Generally, when someone passes away and leaves you land, you can do whatever you want with the land, including selling it. However, sometimes the owner can choose to leave you with lifetime rights to the land -- a so-called life estate -- instead of giving you outright ownership, whether the goal is to keep creditors at bay or to control the way the land is transferred after you pass away. Like other states, North Carolina permits landowners to give life estates, but special rules apply to this type of transfer.

How Can the Executor of an Estate of a Life Tenant Allocate the Appreciation to the Beneficiaries?

Life estates are often used in estate planning to help expedite the transfer of property between a decedent and his beneficiaries. Due to life estates' unique nature in regard to probate, people can be confused as to what role the executor plays in distributing the underlying property. The purpose of a life estate is to ensure that property is transferred without having to rely on probate. Therefore, the role of the executor is generally limited to ensuring the underlying property is quickly transferred to the next owner after the life tenant passes away. Any appreciation of the property during the tenant's life is transferred to the person receiving the property after the tenant's death.


Related articles

Can a Life Estate Be Assigned to Someone Else in West Virginia?

A life estate grants rights to property for the duration of the holder's life. In West Virginia, as in other states, ...

How to Establish a Life Estate

Life estates are popular devices for estate planning. A life estate grants a person the use of the property for the ...

What Happens if the Remainderman in a Life Estate Deed Dies?

A person who reserves a life estate on a property deed has the right to live on and use the property until she dies. ...

What Is the Meaning of Lifetime Estate on a Deed?

A life estate is an ownership interest in real estate, governed by state law. It gives a person, called a life tenant, ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED