A life estate is where a natural person owns all the benefits of ownership in the property during their life, or the life of another, with the property going to a remainder person after the death of the life tenant. It is an interest in real or personal property that is limited in duration to the lifetime of its owner or some other designated person or persons.
A life estate may be transferred, such as selling the interest to the remaindermen. A life estate may be transferred in property by means of a deed or bill of sale. A bill of sale is a document that transfers title of an asset from a seller to a buyer. Deeds are used to transfer real property and come in various forms. One common type of deed used to reserve a life estate is a warranty deed. If a deed is intended to be a general warranty deed, it should contain a phase specified by state law such as the phrase "conveys and warrants". These words, called operative words of conveyance, carry with them several warranties which the grantor is making to the grantee.
The life tenant has certain duties and obligations to fulfill. The life tenant must pay real estate taxes assessed against the land during the life tenancy, protect the property from tax sales, and keep the property free from encumbrances. The failure to fulfill these duties prejudices the future right of possession of the remainderman, and therefore may constitute waste.
Examples of the warranties are:
- First, the grantor warrants that the grantor is the lawful owner of the property at the time the deed is made and delivered and that the grantor has the right to convey the property.
- Second, the grantor warrants that the property is free from all encumbrances or liens.
- Third, the grantor warrants that he or she will defend title to the estate so that the grantee and the grantee's heirs and assigns may enjoy quiet and peaceable possession of the premises with the power to convey the property.
Other types of deeds include:
Quitclaim Deed - A quit claim deed conveys to the grantee and the grantee's heirs and assigns in fee all of the legal or equitable rights the grantor has in the property that existed at the time of the conveyance. An example of operative words of conveyance are "convey and quit claim." There are no warranties of title.
Special Warranty Deed - In contrast to a general warranty deed, a special warranty deed limits the liability of the grantor by warranting only what the deed explicitly states. A special warranty deed has practically the same effect as a quitclaim deed. Special warranty deeds are generally used by corporations or other entities that want to avoid assuming the liability of a general warranty deed. Like the general warranty deed, the special warranty deed should contain the appropriate language such as "conveys and specially warrants." Usually, the grantor warrants that he or she did nothing to impair title during the period the grantor held the title. While a special warranty deed may contain covenants of title, these covenants will usually cover only those claims arising by, through, or under the grantor.