What is a life estate deed?
A life estate deed is a way to transfer ownership of real (tangible) property.
This deed is legal documentation that alters the ownership of a piece of real (tangible) property.
The person that owns the real property (in this instance, Dad) signs a deed that is going to pass the ownership of the property systematically following his passing away to someone else, referred to as the “remainderman” (in this instance, Daughter). As part of the deed, Dad keeps what is known as a life estate, meaning he can remain living on and using the property for the remainder of his life.
He becomes a “life tenant.” The deed would generally include terminology like “to Dad for life, to Daughter as the remainder.” The deed is finished when Dad signs it and then is filed with the county.
Life estate deed benefits
There are a lot of benefits to devising a life estate deed, often times known as a life estate trust:
- Avoid probate. Dad gets to pass his property to Daughter without it having to go through probate. When he dies, she becomes the owner without court proceedings.
- No will required. Dad does not have to include the property in his will. He signs the deed and it’s finished.
- Emotional relief. Dad signs the deed and knows that he does not have to be concerned about what is going to occur to the property after his death.
- Avoid gift tax. Utilizing a life estate property deed could be better than an outright gift from Dad to Daughter throughout Dad’s life, since that could be liable to a gift tax.
- A place to live. A life estate deed is usually used to offer housing for someone until they pass away. Dad could own a house in his own name and devise a life estate deed that gives his much younger wife (Stepmom) a life estate in the property so Dad can guarantee he is going to always have a place to live. He can leave the leftover to Daughter, so she is going to get his inheritance once Stepmom passes away.
The disadvantages of a life estate deed
Along with benefits, there are some disadvantages that should be thought of prior to choosing this course.
- No more control. While Dad gets to live on the property for the remainder of his life, he can’t sell it to anyone, take out a mortgage, or manage what happens to it following his passing. If Daughter passes away before Dad does, her heirs become the remainderman in her place. This might not be what Dad wanted, yet he has no management over it.
- Challenging reversal. This type of deed is legal transference of title through the property. Dad can’t undo should he change his mind, unless Daughter accepts to transfer it back to him.
- Property taxes. Dad is required to continue to pay property taxes on the house throughout his life, which would not be the case should he gift or sell the property to Daughter throughout his lifetime.
Other ways to reach similar outcomes
There are other ways to reach the same results as a life estate deed:
- Revocable trust. Dad can put the property in a revocable living trust with Daughter as the trust’s beneficiary. In doing so, Dad transfers ownership of the house to the trust, yet he can continue to live there the remainder of his life. Dad can create the trust to allocate the house to Daughter upon his passing. He still bypasses probate, yet he has the power to make any alterations he wants to the trust (including nullifying it completely or switching beneficiaries) at any point during his life.
- Sell the property. Another choice is for Dad to sell the property to Daughter throughout his life. Dad gets the funds, which might be used for his care, and Daughter could consent to allow him to live there with no rental payment.
- Last Will and Testament. It is also feasible to devise a life estate in a will. Dad could leave Stepmom a life estate in the property in his will, with the leftover to Daughter.
What is a life estate deed? LegalZoom. (n.d.). Retrieved February 6, 2023, from https://www.legalzoom.com/articles/what-is-a-life-estate-deed
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