SI DEN01140.110 Life Estates
See SI 01140.110
A life estate is an ownership interest in real property. The right of ownership exists for the lifetime of an individual or individuals. Upon the death of the individual(s) the ownership passes to the "remainderman." The owner(s) of a life estate is called a "life tenant" or "tenant for life." An individual who merely has the right to use property, e.g., an adult child promises a parent the right to live in a home for the rest of his life, does not have an ownership interest. One distinguishing factor is that a life estate may be sold or otherwise transferred. Permissive use, however, would not be a legally transferable right, i.e., the parent may not sell his permissive right to live in the home to a third party.
An individual may receive a life estate interest through a deed or grant, through an oral agreement or State law. In most instances, however, he or she cannot pass the life estate interest on to his or her heirs.
1. Conveyance through a deed or grant
In most cases a life estate can only be conveyed by deed or other grant. It is immaterial whether the life tenant transfers the property and reserves a life estate or whether the life estate is granted to the tenant by a third party. Accept without further development any document presented by the claimant which:
(1) Is a deed or uses the language of a deed;
(2) Specifically grants a life estate; and
(3) Is recorded with the registrar of deed or other proper authority.
If a life estate is alleged but the document does not conform to all the criteria listed above, submit the case to the ARC, Programs for a review by the staff and/or the Office of Chief Counsel.
2. Conveyance through an oral transaction
Oral transactions ordinarily are not recognized as establishing a life estate; however, there are some exceptions. If a life estate is alleged and the allegation appears to be supported by other evidence, submit the case as in SI DEN01140.110b.1, step b.
3. Conveyance Through State Law
Some states recognize a widow(er)'s homestead interest as equivalent to a life tenancy. There are also situations when both parents are deceased in which a life estate may be conveyed to a child. Submit all cases of this nature to the ARC, Programs for review and possible referral to the Office of Chief Counsel.