life estate

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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.