Can someone abandon a life lease if they move out of the premises?

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Can someone abandon a life lease if they move out of the premises?

My in-laws own a home that my aunt has a life lease in. Approximately 2 years ago, she invited us to move in with her, however, she then  moved out. Did she abandon her life lease, or does she still have a claim to it should she want to move back in at a later date?

Asked on November 7, 2010 under Real Estate Law, Michigan

Answers:

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

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

What you are referring to here is what is known in the law as a "life estate".  This is an ownership interest in a piece of property, like a house or a condo, that lasts for the life of a named person, but ends on that person’s death. Typically 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 during his or her life.  Therefore, a life tenant need not live in the property and use it as their home.  They rent it out full or part-time (however the rental can’t be for a time longer than the life of the life tenant, since the life tenant only owns an interest during their life.

Note:  The holder of the life estate is responsible for paying taxes, maintaining the property in good repair, and not permitting it to suffer any "waste" or other damage.

With a life estate, someone owns the remainder interest in the property (the "remainderman"). That means that after the person with a life estate dies, the owner of the remainder interest will own the full interest in the property. If the remaindermanis concerned about the use of the property, for example, that renting might result damage and a loss of value, they can always try and negotiate to buy the life estate and regain full ownership while the life tenant is still alive.


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