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What Is Estate at Will?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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An estate at will is a type of lease agreement where the agreement continues indefinitely until either party terminates it. Under the estate at will, the landlord can ask the tenant to move immediately, and the tenant can also move at any time and give notice to end the agreement. There can be some advantages and disadvantages that landlords and tenants may want to consider before taking on an estate at will agreement. Other examples of agreements can include month-to-month arrangements, where either party can terminate with a month's notice, or year-long leases.

A common reason to request an estate at will agreement is a pending sale. A landlord who wants to keep a tenant in a building until the last possible moment can ask for an estate at will lease. Once the landlord sells the property, the tenant must leave, and will receive no notice beforehand. Tenants may be able to negotiate lower rent or other benefits in exchange for the insecurity of their situation, whether they are occupying commercial or residential real estate.

Tenants can also request this kind of agreement because it may be to their advantage. Some tenants need to move quickly for work or other reasons and may appreciate the flexibility of an estate at will lease. They can occupy the building as long as they need it and leave immediately without penalty in a situation like a work reassignment. For commercial leases, the ability to move quickly to take advantage of other opportunities can also be beneficial, and may be an advantage to the tenant.

The estate at will contract can include a variety of terms. With an at will agreement, for instance, the lease agreement may require at least a week's notice to terminate. The landlord or tenant also has other rights and responsibilities, such as the need to keep the property in good order and a requirement to pay the rent on time or risk penalties such as late fees or a request to leave.

With any lease agreement, it is advisable to read over the terms and conditions carefully. There may be unexpected or hidden clauses that could be a problem in the future. If there are any questions, they should be brought up before signing, along with any requests for modifications. An attorney can assist with this process if the parties are not sure about whether it will meet their needs or have questions they cannot answer.

Is an Estate at Will Very Common?

An estate-at-will is also frequently referred to as a tenancy-at-will or month-to-month agreement. If you are a landlord looking to keep tenants in your building for as long as possible, you may wonder if this is a common thing to do and what kind of reaction you may get from your tenants. Likewise, if you are a renter looking for accommodations that you can move away from quickly if needed, you may want to know how difficult it is to find such a thing.

An estate-at-will agreement is one of the most common types of lease. Some confusion can arise due to the different names used to describe it, but the rules and regulations about a rental agreement with no set end date are the same regardless of what it is called on paper. These agreements can be popular options for both tenants and landlords, but it is important to be sure that both parties understand the agreement so that no one is caught off guard should the tenant have to move out unexpectedly.

Do You Need a Written Contract for an Estate at Will?

While you may create a written document outlining the expectations for how much notice is needed for a tenant to move out of a rental property, this is not strictly necessary. In fact, a traditional paper leasing agreement may not be needed at all for estate-at-will tenants. Whether a written contract should be used or not depends a lot on the specific scenario taking place between the renter and landlord.

Written Contracts for Month to Month Leases

If a tenant is planning on having an estate-at-will contract from the start, a document similar to a traditional lease may be used to record the agreement between both parties. This will usually state the terms of renting as a month-to-month contract. It may also leave the set amount of time on the lease undefined.

There is a certain level of trust that must exist between estate-at-will tenants and landlords given the potential instability of both partys' situations. Having written records is a good idea when moving into a new situation when the tenant and landlord may not know what to expect from each other.

Spoken Agreements for Holdover Tenants

A common scenario where a tenant and landlord may opt for a spoken agreement rather than a written one is in situations where the time on the current lease has ended and the tenant would like to stay for a limited amount of time past the end date.

People who stay past the time specified on their lease are known as holdover tenants. An estate-at-will agreement can allow them to stay on the property until a new living situation has been procured and they are ready to move. This is often a nice convenience for the renter and can benefit the landlord by keeping a tenant in the property while the landlord advertises it to potential new renters.

Do You Need a Lawyer to Request an Estate at Will?

While you do not need a lawyer to implement an estate-at-will agreement, it can help to know what legal protections are afforded to both the landlord and the tenant. These protections apply regardless of whether a written contract was used or if the agreement was spoken only.

Expectations for Landlords

By entering into an estate-at-will agreement the landlord is committing to fulfill a few important requirements. Firstly, they must provide an environment that is safe for the tenant to live in. Any damages or safety concerns on the property should be taken care of as soon as possible. The landlord needs to provide notice before entering the property. Generally, this should be given 24 hours or more before setting foot on the premises unless the tenant has agreed to have the landlord there for maintenance or other reasons.

Expectations for Tenants

The tenant also takes on responsibilities through an estate-at-will agreement. The main obligation of tenants is to pay rent by the agreed-upon time consistently while living at the property. They may also need to take financial responsibility for any damages that occur that are not part of normal wear on the house, appliances, and any furniture belonging to the landlord. Tenants should report any problems with the property quickly to the landlord so that they can be taken care of before they become serious.

Provided the process is gone about in a professional way that both parties agree upon, an estate-at-will agreement can be beneficial to both tenants and landlords. Specific rules vary from state to state for both landlords and tenants, so it is important to look into the policies in your area.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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