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Life Estate: When You Can Stay in Your Deceased Spouse’s House for the Rest of Your Life, but You Do Not Inherit the House


The law treats your homestead, that is, the house which is your primary and permanent residence, differently from how it treats other possessions, and even from how it treats other real estate properties.  For example, in bankruptcy cases, it is often possible to claim a homestead exemption where you get to keep your house even if you have to give up all other items of property on which you owe debt.  More importantly for estate planning law, it is possible for a married couple to own their house as tenants by the entireties, which means that you are 100 percent owner of the house, and your spouse is also 100 percent owner.  In estate planning law, it is also possible to specify in your will that your spouse live in the house for the rest of his or her life if your spouse survives you, but for the house not to become part of your spouse’s estate after your spouse’s death.  Your marital home can be the most valuable part of your estate, and an Orange County estate planning lawyer can help you implement your wishes for your house and its residents.

It Is Possible to Leave Your House to Your Spouse and Then to Your Sibling

Mitchell and Virginia were married for more than 50 years, and they spent their retirement living in a condominium on Key Biscayne.  They did not have children.  In 1979, they signed a document in which Virginia granted Mitchell life estate in the condo, but provided that her sister Betty would inherit the house.  This means that, if Mitchell survived Virginia, he could stay in the condo for the rest of his life, but it would not become part of his estate.  Instead, when Mitchell died, the house would become Betty’s property.  They signed the document under the guidance of a lawyer and in the presence of witnesses.  As was common practice before the advent of word processing software for computers, the document was a pre-printed form, in which the parties entered their names and the address of the property by typewriter.

Virginia died in November 2008, and Mitchell died two months later.  After Betty died in 2010, dispute ensued between Mitchell’s nephew Richard and Betty’s daughter Catherine over who should inherit the condo.  Richard claimed that the document that Virginia and Mitchell signed in 1979 was invalid and that the condo should be the property of Mitchell’s estate, passing to Richard and his cousins.  The court ruled that the document was valid, and the condo belonged to Betty’s estate.

Let Us Help You Today

If you and your spouse do everything together, you should consult an Orlando estate planning lawyer together.  If you own your house by tenancy of the entireties, your lawyer can help you make plans for its distant future.  Contact Gierach and Gierach, P.A. for help with your case.





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