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Life Estate on Real Property

By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

If you have or are preparing your own estate planning one of the things you should be concerned about is dealing with your real estate. The real estate that you own may come in many different forms. It could be the home that you live in, or a vacation property, or farm ground, or even bare ground.

How you handle your estate-planning while you are alive could have an impact on your real estate. The real estate that you own could also be located in different states, adding to the complexity of how to handle it.

Do you give your real property away as a gift while you are alive? Alternatively, do you use your last will and testament, or a trust as a way of distributing your real estate to your family members and loved ones after you pass away? These questions often come up when trying to help clients make decisions about how to deal with their estate planning and the money, property, and other assets that they own.

If you have thought about these kinds of issues but you aren’t sure what to do about them, don’t be overwhelmed. We can help. We have decades of experience in helping clients make decisions with how to handle their real estate as part of their estate planning including using a life estate as an effective estate planning tool.

The best place to start is with organizing all your information in one place so that it can be easily understood. To do this, we recommend that our clients each begin with our free Estate Planning Questionnaire. This is an easy and organized way of compiling all your information including the list of any real estate that you own that should be part of your estate planning.

Then we encourage our clients to schedule a free 30-minute consultation where we can answer their estate planning questions including how to deal with their real estate. During this consultation we often talk with our clients about how life estates work and whether using a life estate as part of their estate plan would be a good idea.

How a Life Estate Works

So, what exactly is a life estate and how does it work? A life estate is a type of ownership a person could have in real estate that exists so long as they are alive. More specifically, it is a legal right to own, possess, and use a home or land or some other type of real estate while the person is alive.

Typically, however, a life estate is limited in what can be done with it. Usually, it cannot be sold or transferred to another person. Additionally, it cannot be expanded beyond the life of the person who receives the life estate.

A life estate is created through a deed. The deed will usually identify who the grantor or giver of the life estate is. It will also identify who is receiving the life estate. Finally, it will name the actual owner who is being deeded the property that is subject to the life estate.

For example, a parent may own property that they want to give to their children. However, the parent may want to continue to live in the property while they are alive. In this example, the parent is the grantor who may give the property to the child but reserve a life estate for themselves while they are alive. In this example, the child becomes the owner of the property, but the parent has reserved a life estate right to continue to possess and use the property while they are alive.

Can a Life Estate be Ended Early Voluntarily?

The short answer to this question is yes, a life estate can be ended early voluntarily by the person who owns it. Using the example above, if the parent decides during their lifetime that they no longer want the life estate, they can deed it to the child that is the owner of the property.

Keep in mind there is a limitation on transferring a life estate. It is true that the life estate can be ended voluntarily, but the life estate cannot be transferred to some other individual. In other words, the parent could not transfer their life estate to a friend. Life estate is specifically held by the individual to whom it is granted.

Can a Life Estate be Ended Early Involuntarily?

This is the question that comes up most often after a life estate has been created. The ultimate owner of the property may want to use it in some way immediately, but they find themselves limited in what they can do with the property because of the existence of the life estate.

Typically, a life estate can only be ended involuntarily if the life estate itself describes the specific conditions that will end the life estate. For example, if the language in the deed creating the life estate says that it will only last so long as the person actually lives on the property this could create a situation where the life estate ends early involuntarily.

Additionally, some life estate deeds will say that the person holding the life estate is required to pay the property taxes, as well as all utilities, repairs, updates, and maintenance necessary to keep the property in good condition. The deed could specifically say that if the individual fails to do any of these things the life estate will come to an end.

As you can see, the life estate can be a useful tool as part of your estate plan. However, it is important to understand the limitations that it creates on your estate planning, and on the real estate that you own. If you have questions about using a life estate as part of your own estate plan, and you have questions about how it will work, we can help. We have assisted numerous clients in creating their own customized estate plans, including using life estates for real property. We are confident that we can answer your questions and help you too!


Our team of Idaho lawyers can help you with any of your estate planning or probate needs. Whether you are seeking to create or review an estate plan for yourself or would like to help a loved one, we are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial free 30-minute consultation. Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a free consultation. You can also email us directly at or stop by our office at 201 East Center Street, Pocatello, Idaho 83201. We will answer your questions and help you solve your Idaho estate planning problems.

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