Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Life Estate Definition:

A right to use and to enjoy land and/or structures on land only for the life of the life tenant.

Related Terms: Gift Over, Remainder, Life Tenant

A right to use and to enjoy land and/or structures on land only for the life of the life tenant.

The estate reverts back to the settlor or his estate (or to some other designated person), at the death of the person to whom it is given.

A property right to last only for the life of the life tenant is called the estate "pur sa vie."

If it is for the duration of the life of a third party, it is called an estate "pur autre vie".

The rights of the life tenant are restricted to conduct which does not permanently change the land or structures upon it.

It is a point of debate whether a life estate requires that the holder reside on the real property or whether rents may be received by him or her or whether that conduct severs the life estate.

The common law appears to favour full rights to the holder; that he or she is entitled to rent or profit from the subject real property. However, rare is the entitlement document that merely grants a "life estate". Usually more words or some context is available that may lend itself to a more restrictive interpretation.

One example is British Columbia's Estate Administration Act which requires that the estate administrators "hold the spousal home in trust for an estate for the life of the surviving spouse, or so long as the surviving spouse wishes to retain the estate for life". There is one BC case which states that the widow must reside on the property; another BC case that blankets the statutory concept with some "common law love" and concludes that the widow can rent it without losing it.

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