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Life Estate: You Can Inherit Your Spouse’s House, And So Can Your Stepchildren


It isn’t easy to be a stepparent, at least not in the beginning.  If your stepchildren are young when you marry their parent, the time they spend at your house can be a nightmare, but at least you can avoid taking their animosity toward you personally; they have had to deal with a lot of major changes in their family life.  Usually, by the time they grow up, they realize that you are here to stay, and a new family dynamic emerges, even if your relationship with them isn’t quite like how you would expect parent-child relationships to be.  Sometimes things are easier when you become a stepparent late in life; you are more mature, and so are your adult stepchildren.  Most step-parents would agree, however, that the probate of your spouse’s estate is easier if your step-kids came into your life as children than if you first met them as adults.  One solution that some families use is for the surviving spouse (the stepparent) to have possession of the house until he or she dies, at which point the decedent’s children (the surviving spouse’s stepchildren) inherit the house; this is called life estate.  Whether or not you have a life estate in your spouse’s house, a Washington DC probate lawyer can help you with the probate of a family member’s estate.

Is Life Estate the Best of Both Worlds?

Life estate enables the homeowner to provide stability for one family member, while providing another, usually younger, family member or family members with an inheritance.  When you grant someone (called the “life tenant”) life estate in your house, that person has the right to live in your house rent free for the rest of his or her life.  When the life tenant dies, another person designated by you inherits the house; this person is called the remainderman.

The life tenant takes possession of the house immediately after the original owner’s death, thus making the house a non-probate asset.  As a life tenant, you cannot sell the house.  You also cannot bequeath it to anyone else in your will; after you die, the house goes to the remainderman or remaindermen designated by the person who granted you life estate.  You have the right to rent the house out, however, and any rental income you earn from the house is yours to keep and to bequeath to any beneficiaries you choose.  By the time the remaindermen inherit the house, its value will be greater than it was when your life estate began.  In many cases, granting life estate to a surviving spouse and designating the decedent’s children as remaindermen prevents conflict, because neither party is left empty-handed.

Contact Tobin O’Connor Concino P.C. About Dealing With Family Conflict in Probate

Life estate determines what happens to the decedent’s house, but it does not apply to any other assets.  A probate lawyer can help you if your spouse’s estate planning efforts, well-intentioned as they were, could not prevent all family conflicts in probate.  Contact Tobin O’Connor Concino P.C. for help.



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