If someone has the right to live on a property until they die, are they responsible for the replacement of the appliances?

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If someone has the right to live on a property until they die, are they responsible for the replacement of the appliances?

My father passed away 3 years ago. In his Will he gifted all property to his 3 sons, 1 of which is me. The Will also allows my stepmother to live in the house until she dies or decides to move out. She has been the sole resident of the house for the past 3 years. She has been taking care of routine bills and minor repairs. Who is responsible for cost of replacement of major appliances (e.g. refrigerator or water heater) which need to be replaced and were purchased by my father and were in the house prior to my father’s death?

Asked on November 18, 2011 under Real Estate Law, North Carolina

Answers:

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

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

What you are referring to here is what is known in the law as a "life estate".  This is a possessory interest in a piece of real estate, like a house or land, that lasts for the life of a person but ends upon their death.  A person who holds a life estate is called a "life tenant".

The life tenant has the right to do anything with the property that a full owner could do (short of conveying any ownership interest in it). However, in addition to these rights a life tenant also has responsibilities. A life tenant is obligated to pay the taxes, maintain the property, and not allow it to suffer any damage. This would include replacing any appliances or mechanical systems on the property. 

Note: In addition to the life tenant there is also someone owns the remainder interest in the property (the "remainderman" or "remaindermen", as the case may be). That means that after the life tenant dies, the remaindeman will own full interest in the property. If the remainderman is concerned about the use of the property, they can try and negotiate to buy out the life estate from the life tenant.


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