Can a life tenant’s debts affect the life estate and/or the remainderman?

Father married stepmother at age 70 and is now dying. In his Will he is leaving her the house as a “life estate” with myself as remainderman. She still has significant debt from when she entered the marriage and has a daughter with a student loan that she co-signed for and she is not paying it (presumably a lien situation). Can any of her debts/liens end up transferring to me? If she doesn’t make necessary payments on the property (tax/insurance), am I left holding the bag on that too? There is a new state law that appears to allow the state to recover Medicaid more easily. Can that get hung on me too? I am afraid this will all come back to haunt me. Should I seek legal counsel? I would be willing to pay for advice on alternatives.

Asked on July 1, 2014 under Real Estate Law, Wisconsin


M.T.G., Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

You are wise to be concerned and I am so sorry about your Father's situation.  Generally speaking, the creditor of a life tenant can only attach the life tenant's interest, which dies with them.  That is for personal debts. She is obligated to make the payments and repairs that relate to the property and/or home, so those debts can attach. There are medicaid issues but that has mostly to do with eligibility and how a life estate is calculated.  I would definitely speak with an estate planner asap.  Good luck.

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