This memorandum responds to your December 23, 2010 memorandum asking whether Helen
E~ has equitable ownership of the residence at 75 Purple Heart Highway, Brooks, Maine.
For the reasons set forth below, it appears Ms. E~ does not have equitable ownership.
On November 22, 1996, Helen L. E~ granted by gift the property presently located at
75 Purple Heart Highway, Brooks, Maine to her daughter, A. Delaine N~, and her granddaughter,
Melissa P~. On September 9, 2010, Ms. E~ filed for Supplemental Security Income. The claim was
processed using the maximum amount of in-kind support and maintenance income pending
the living arrangement determination. On September 15, 2010, Ms. E~ stated on form
SSA-795 that she had a verbal agreement with Ms. N~ that Ms. E~ would be allowed to
live at 75 Purple Heart Highway, Brooks, Maine for the rest of her life. Ms. E~ also
stated that, since the time of the verbal agreement, she has lived alone in the house
and paid the property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and “necessary upkeep.” Ms. N~
provided a statement to the same effect on September 15, 2010. On November 15, 2010, Melissa B~ provided a similar statement.  On April 13, 2011, Ms. N~ and Ms. E~ provided additional statements, in which they
confirmed that, at the time Ms. E~ conveyed the property to Ms. N~ and Ms. B~, their
understanding was that Ms. E~ would pay the taxes, insurance, and other expenses.
Ms. B~ could not be reached for an additional statement.
You asked whether Ms. E~ has an equitable ownership of the residence at 75 Purple
Heart Highway. For the reasons set forth below, it appears Ms. E~ does not have an
Assuming the property referenced in the November 22, 1996 deed is 75 Purple Heart
Highway, and assuming there were no subsequent transfers of that property, it appears
that Ms. N~ and Ms. B~ are the record owners. The oral agreement among Ms. E~, Ms.
N~, and Ms. B~ was, in itself, insufficient to grant or reserve a life estate in Ms.
E~’s favor because it was not in writing. See Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 33, § 51 (“No action shall be maintained . . . Upon any contract
for the sale of lands, tenements or hereditaments, or of any interest in or concerning
them . . . unless the promise, contract or agreement on which such action is brought,
or some memorandum or note thereof, is in writing and signed by the party to be charged
therewith”); Laflamme v. Hoffman, 95 A.2d 802, 803 (Me. 1953) (“A life estate being an estate in freehold cannot be
transferred or created by parol.”).
Moreover, on the facts provided, Ms. E~ does not have an equitable life estate in
the property. See Laflamme, 95 A.2d at 803 (“Under some circumstances parol transfers of land will be enforced
in equity.”). To acquire an equitable life estate, Ms. E~ must have given consideration
in exchange for the right to live at the property. Id. at 805 (notwithstanding defendant’s claim of possession based on a parol gift of
life estate, defendant had neither legal nor equitable estate where he gave no consideration,
that is, he performed no act at the request of the promisor).  Although Ms. E~ apparently paid the taxes, insurance, and “necessary upkeep,” pursuant
to an understanding with Ms. N~ and Ms. B~, this was insufficient to perfect a life
estate. See Sanders v. Cammack, No. SA-07-113, 2007 WL 7240716 (Me. Super. Apr. 4, 2007) (defendant did not have
a life estate even though his sister allowed him to live on her property so long as
he paid the taxes and insurance and kept the property in good condition; rather, defendant
was merely a tenant at will).
In addition, this office is aware of POMS SI DAL01130.100(B)(2), which states that a district office may establish that an individual has home
ownership because of an equitable life estate where all of the following factors are
The individual owned the home in which he/she now lives; and
The individual deeded the home to another individual, and the deed did not provide
for a life estate, usufruct, dower, or courtesy; and
The individual continues to live in the home after it was deeded to another; and
All individuals (i.e., seller and buyer) involved in the deed agree it was their intent
at the time the home was deeded that the individual who deeded the home could continue
to live in the home for the remainder of his/her life.
These four factors are met in this case. However, POMS SI DAL01130.100 is specific to the Dallas region, and is contrary to Maine law as discussed above.
Moreover, the Dallas OGC office indicated to this office that POMS SI DAL01130.100 may be unreliable, thus the Dallas office is reevaluating POMS SI DAL01130.100.
Finally, although this memorandum is not intended to offer legal advice to Ms. E~,
Ms. N~, or Ms. P~, it is worth noting that these three individuals could probably
perfect a life estate in Ms. E~’s favor simply by drafting and recording an appropriate
deed. In cases addressing a purported life estate based on parol evidence, such as
the Laflamme and Sanders cases cited above, there is usually a dispute between the party claiming the life
estate and the record owner of the property. This case, in contrast, is unique in
the sense that both the party claiming the life estate (Ms. E~) and the record owners
of the property (Ms. N~ and Ms. B~) all agree that they intend for Ms. E~ to have
a life estate.
Based on the above, it appears Ms. E~ does not have an equitable ownership of the
property in question.