An interest in land that lasts only for the life of the holder. Thus, the holder of a life estate cannot leave the land to anyone in their will, because their interest in the land does not survive the person. The holder of a life estate has a full right to possess the land or transfer their interest during their lifetime, but must refrain from engaging in waste, activity which would prevent the next person in line from putting the property to full use.
A life estate is created by a deed that gives the land to the person "for life" and identifies what should happen to it after that person dies. For example, a deed stating that land would go "to John Doe for life, then to Jane Doe" gives John a valid life estate, and Jane a remainder. John could use the land during his lifetime, and even sell his interest to a third party, but that third party would have to surrender the property to Jane upon John's death.
Definition from Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary
The right to the use and enjoyment of certain property (usually real estate) for life only. So someone who inherits a life estate in a house may live in the house for his or her life but has no right to sell it or to leave it at death. Life estates aren't as commonly used as they once were, but are still useful in certain situations. For example, a man in his second marriage might leave a life estate in his house to his surviving wife, with the provision that at her death, it is to go to his children from his previous marriage. (See also: remainderman
Definition provided by Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary.
August 19, 2010, 5:19 pm