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Should You Give Your Spouse Life Estate In Your House?


You can’t choose your family, and in many families, certain people only tolerate each other for the sake of a close relative that they have in common.  When that family member dies, the animosity that stayed barely hidden for all those years tends to come out.  If there are any ambiguities or surprises in the decedent’s will, it can turn into an ugly battle in probate.  When a wealthy man who has children from a previous marriage remarries late in life, it is a perfect storm for probate battles, especially if the new wife is younger and less wealthy than the husband.  The stepmother can easily feel that her stepchildren are just using their father for his money, and the stepmother can easily feel the same way about the kids.  Florida’s rules of intestate succession would grant half of the estate to the surviving spouse and divide the other half among the children, but you can make your own decisions about how to divide your property simply by writing a will.  The family home is often a major sticking point in blended families.  Giving your surviving spouse life estate in the house is a possible solution.  An Orlando estate planning lawyer can help you decide whether life estate is the best option for your family.

What a Life Tenant Can and Cannot Do

In estate law, “life estate” refers to a situation where the decedent grants one person (the life tenant) temporary ownership of a real estate property.  The life tenant may reside in the house rent-free for the rest of his or her life, but when the life tenant dies, ownership of the house goes to another person or people (the remainderman or remaindermen).  The life tenant has the right to any income generated by the property during his or her residence there; the life tenant also has the obligation not to intentionally damage the property in a way that would depreciate its value.  The life tenant cannot sell the property or pass it on to anyone through inheritance.

Suppose that Carl and Debbie got married when they were in their 60s; Carl has four children from his first marriage, but Debbie does not have any children.  Carl’s will gives Debbie life estate in his house and names his children as remaindermen.  After Carl dies, Debbie lives in the house for the rest of her life.  She rents out some of the rooms and earns income.  When she dies, the house is not part of her estate, but she leaves the money she inherited from Carl and the money she earned by renting out rooms in the house to her nieces and nephews.  Carl’s children inherit the house; its value appreciated during the years that Debbie lived there after Carl’s death.  In a situation like this, life estate benefits everyone.

Contact Gierach and Gierach About Life Estate and Other Estate Planning Solutions

An estate planning lawyer can help you decide how best to make your family home benefit the members of your family that survive you.  Contact Gierach and Gierach, P.A. in Orlando, Florida to discuss your case.



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