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What Is a Life Tenant?

By Christy Bieber
Updated May 21, 2024
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A life tenant is an individual who has a legal right to a piece of land for the duration of his life. The life tenant generally has an unlimited right to do as he wishes with that property during his life, although the lease or tenancy agreement may limit those rights. Upon his death, the life tenancy expires.

The person who creates the tenancy usually owns the property absolutely, in a form of property ownership called a fee simple absolute. This means he has an unqualified right to do anything he wants with the property, including sell it or use it. When an individual is granted a life tenancy, also called a life estate, the person granting that interest generally must name a remainderman. The remainderman is the person who will receive the property upon the death of the life tenant.

The life tenant may use the property during the course of his life, so he enjoys the legal right of possession. In many cases, he may also sell the property if he wishes or lease it to someone else. A life tenant, however, cannot transfer a greater interest in the property than he himself possesses. Thus, if a life tenant sells the property, the person who buys it must be aware that it expires upon the death of the tenant, even if the buyer is still alive.

what is a life tenant

Setting up a life tenancy can be a useful tool. For example, a man may remarry and his new wife may live in his home. He may wish to ensure that she always has the right to live in that house, even upon his death. Despite his wish to allow her to remain in the home for the duration of her life, however, he may wish to ensure that the home will pass to his children upon her death, as opposed to allowing her to will it to whomever she wished.

In such a situation, by setting up a life tenancy, he could ensure that she had an unqualified right to keep the house while she was alive, but that the home would pass to the beneficiaries he selected upon his death. He would simply name his child or children as the remaindermen when creating the life tenancy. This would protect not only his children's interests, but also the interest of the wife who would be assured that she could not lose her rights to the property during her lifetime.

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Discussion Comments
By Vito — On Sep 14, 2015

My father sold his home to my brother in exchange for life tenancy. My father was hospitalized due to a fall that required surgery and rehabilitation. When he wanted to return home, he was denied entry. He lives in New Jersey. If anyone out there can offer any advice or opinions, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you.

By burcidi — On Jul 04, 2011

Even though the life tenant doesn't have legal title of a property, I think he or she still has to take care of it and make any mortgage payments while living in the house. The life tenant can't avoid paying taxes, mortgage interest or not repair the house just because he is not the real owner of the place. He or she still has to maintain the place and keep it in good condition.

By turquoise — On Jul 03, 2011

That's an excellent idea. I have heard of many instances where a couple want to get married but the children from their previous marriages are against the marriage. The children fear that the properties which they feel have rights to will be passed on to a complete stranger if their parent were to pass away.

It's also a bad situation for the spouses because no one wants to marry knowing that they might be left without nothing if the husband or wife passes away.

Who is more right, could be argued, but doesn't really matter. Because life tenancy resolves both issues, it satisfies both parties in my view. This way no one is wronged. I think it's an ideal contract for second marriages.

By SteamLouis — On Jul 02, 2011

Women and widows were often life tenants in Old England. At that time, only men were allowed to own land which meant that woman could not hold property at any point in their lives. If their husbands died, they could end up in a terrible situation, being left without property or money to live on.

That's why husbands often made legal agreements for the women to be unofficial life tenants. The ownership of the property was given to a third party but the right to live in and use that land belonged to the woman as long as she lived. It was a way to protect women and their rights because these rights weren't given to them legally.

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