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

UPDATED: Jun 13, 2011

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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


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

Answered 11 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.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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