If about 11 years ago my mother-in-law decided to “sign over” her house to my wife but put in the deed a living estate, who owns the property?

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If about 11 years ago my mother-in-law decided to “sign over” her house to my wife but put in the deed a living estate, who owns the property?

About 7 years ago, my wife passed away of natural causes. I have done some research on living estates and it always says that the grantor retains full ownership of the house. I have read the deed and it doesn’t state anywhere that my mother-in-law retained ownership of the property. Her lawyer claims she still owns the property (or so she claims) and now she is trying to evict me from the property even though I had been residing there for 17 years. If she owns the property, can she legally evict me even though I have been residing there for so long?

Asked on June 2, 2013 under Estate Planning, New York

Answers:

Nathan Wagner / Law Office of Nathan Wagner

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

Your mother-in-law could have made the deed several ways. She might have given your wife a "life estate" in the house. In other words, your wife would own the house for as long as your wife lived, then the house would automatically go back to your mother-in-law. In that case, your mother-in-law owns it now, and she can evict you.

Or, she might have given the house to your wife, but retained a life estate for herself. In other words, your mother-in-law would own the house for as long as your mother-in-law lives, then the house would automatically go to your wife or your wife's heirs. In this case, your mother-in-law would still own the house now, and she could evict you. But, since I assume you are your wife's heir, you would have a future interest in the house (in other words, you expect to inherit it someday, upon your mother-in-law's death).

There are other ways that she could have used a life estate, but these are probably the most likely in your situation. I suggest having a lawyer look at the deed, to tell you how she set up the life estate. 


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