If my stepmother has lifetime rights to my deceased dad’s house, who pays for the upkeep of the house?

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If my stepmother has lifetime rights to my deceased dad’s house, who pays for the upkeep of the house?

My dad recently died and left his house and property to his children. However he granted his wife (children’s stepmother) lifetime rights to the house. Who pays for the upkeep and maintenance of the house such as property taxes, maintenance and repair cost (minor and major)?

Asked on June 13, 2011 under Estate Planning, North Carolina

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

What your step-mother has here is what is known in the law as a  "life estate". This is an ownership interest in a piece of property, such as a house, that lasts for the life of a person but ends upon their death.  Generally speaking, a person who holds a life estate (the "life tenant"), has the right to do anything with the property that a full owner could do, short of transferring title. 

Additionally however, with its rights a life tenant also has responsibilities.  Accordingly, they must pay taxes, maintain the property, insure it and not permit it to suffer any damage.

In addition to the life tenant there is also someone owns the remainder interest in the property (the "remainderman"). That means that after the life tenant dies, the remaindeman will own full interest in the property. If the remainderman feels that the life estate is not being properly maintained they can file suit in court.


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