Definition: Life Estate

A life estate is an interest in real property that lasts as long as the life of a particular person (known as the “measuring life”). The measuring life can be the life of the person who is granted the life estate (the “grantee”) or the life of some other person. For the duration of the measuring life, the grantee’s interest typically includes the same possession and enjoyment rights of the real property as a full owner (a “fee simple” owner). However, this interest ends at the end of the measuring life, so the grantee of a life estate cannot transfer more than the life estate in the property. At the end of the measuring life, and depending on how the life estate was created, title to the real property will revert to the grantor or pass on to some other recipient.

Though this concept may seem simple enough, there are enormous complexities that result from granting a life estate as a gift in a last will and testament. Therefore, a life estate is unsuitable for inclusion in a simple will, and you should not attempt to include one without the advice of an attorney.