Under common law systems, as well as the statutory law, life estate refers to the ownership for land property that lasts the duration of the individuals life. Legally, the term refers to estate of real property which ends upon the death of the land owner, reverting the property back to the original owner, or transferred to another individual. The term to describe an owner of a life estate is referred to as ‘life tenant’.
Since 1925, combined jurisdictions of Wales and England indicate a freehold estate is to be ‘held’ for the purpose of a life interest, only taking effect as interest enjoyed within an equity, particularly as a possession trust interest. Meanwhile, another type of ownership of land is considered a leasehold, which are commonly long-term leases over a period between 99 years to 999 years, the interpretation of ‘leases for life’ are commonly unpredictable methods for a lease or license.
The life estate duration is limited due to it ending upon the death of the property owner, therefore, the owner is known as a life tenant and has the right to enjoy specific benefits of property ownership. Specifically, income obtained form rent or another use from the property and right of occupation, during their possession. Due to a life estate ending upon the death of the owner, the life tenant is considered a temporary owner and is unable to sell the property, bequeath or give the property (such as assuming it can transfer to heirs) or create a purported document giving it to a devisee.
The life estate once granted, is held for the persons remaining lifetime, but is not in possession of the estate. This type of life estate (pur autre vie) occurs when life tenants dispose of the property, but with the assumption of the disposal not triggering a special forfeiture. Additionally, it introduces the grantor the ability of choosing to conduct measures of someone else’s life other than the life of the tenant. There are two key circumstances for a life estate pur autre vie:
- When the property owner has conveyed interest within the property to another individual, for the extend of the third person. For instance, if individual A conveyed land to individual B during the lifetime of individual C, then B would own the land for the extent of individual C’s lifetime. If individual B dies prior to C, then the land is inherited by the heirs of B, who will own it for the lifetime of individual C.
- If individual A conveyed land to individual C for a lifetime, individual C is able to sell the life estate to individual B. Therefore, the land will be owned by individual B and heirs until the death of individual C.