What is a Life Estate?

A life estate is an interest in real property that is measured by the life of a person that terminates upon the passing of a measuring life. I have created life estates in trusts and wills, mostly for blended families, or when the need arises. Life estates can be created by deed or will or by operation of law.

For example, Jack and Jill were married with three children. Jack passes away and then Jill falls in love with Macho Mike and remarries. While she loves Macho Mike, she wants her three children to inherit the property. Thus, she gives Macho Mike a life estate in the property. He is the measuring life and upon his death then the children will inherit the property.

In the case of life estates created by deed or will, no particular words are necessary to create the life estate.  The simplest way to create a life estate would be to write, “to Macho Mike for his life.” This is an example of a conveyance which contains all three elements which are necessary to make explicit what the full intention of Jill in creating a life estate.

This conveyance designates (1) who is to take the estate, Macho Mike; (2) what kind of estate Macho Mike is to take “for life,” a life estate; and (3) who is the measuring life for this life estate, also Macho Mike“to Macho Mike for his life.”

Even though Macho Mike is the measuring life in this example it is also possible to create the life estate with another measuring life. For example, to create a life estate so that one person owns the interest in the land but the duration of the interest is measured by another person’s life: “To Macho Mike for Jill’s life.” This kind of life estate is known as a life estate pur autre vie, i.e., for another’s life.

Problems arise when one or more of these elements is missing from a conveyance or devise and Jill has not made her intentions explicit with respect to all aspects of the estate she wishes to create. Please contact us with any questions about life estates.

Additionally, every life estate is followed by a future interest, normally either a reversion to Jill or a remainder in her three children.

Jill, owner of Blackacre in fee simple, conveys Blackacre “to Macho Mike for his life.” Macho Mike takes a life estate in Blackacre and Jill automatically retains a reversion in fee simple in the same property.


Jill, owner of Blackacre in fee simple, conveys Blackacre “to Macho Mike for his life and on Mach Mike‘s death to my three children their heirs.” Macho Mike takes a life estate in Greenacre and C takes a future interest in the same land, a vested remainder in fee simple absolute. In this situation where Jill has transferred a vested fee simple to a third party, Jill retains no interest whatsoever in the land.

Coastal Pacific Law attorneys are experienced in estate planning, and can help with your trust administration, probate administration, wills and trusts. To schedule a complimentary consultation, call (619)786-6563, or fill out a Contact Request Form.

This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.

Photo by Ernest Porzi

Posted from San Diego, California, United States.