Not all property transfers are the same. There are several types of property transfers in Texas, some more restrictive or less durable than others. A common form of limited property transfer is a life estate, an estate with a life-limited duration. The limited nature of this kind of property transfer has unique duties and rights. Many life tenants may not understand their obligations and rights with their life estate, but a professional estate attorney can help.
Whether you are a life tenant on a piece of property or considering setting up such a transfer for another party, retain services from an experienced probate attorney, one familiar with Texas laws, to ensure that it’s created and managed correctly.
Texas Life Estate Basics
A life estate is typically granted for the life of the grantee or tenant. Sometimes a life estate may be granted based on a third party’s life, called a life estate pur autre vie, but the grantee will still only hold tenancy until the end of the third party’s life. Property ownership then reverts to the original grantor (an individual) or a third party (remainderman, typically a trust).
Common phrases that establish a life estate in Texas include “for life” or “until his/her death.” There are no specific phrases that indicate the property transfer is a life estate. Life tenants have established rights and duties under a life estate, unique to this type of property transfer.
Texas Life Tenant Rights
Texas Life Estate tenants have the following rights:
- Right of possession of the property, with exclusive possession, management, and control over said property
- Right to all rents and profits during the possession of the said property, including oil and gas royalties
- Right to invoke Texas homestead law when applicable
- Right of alienation, including the right to sell, mortgage, lease, or otherwise alienate the life estate
However, the right of alienation does have some stipulations, as measuring life still limits this right. For example, any lease is only valid for the duration of the measuring life.
Duties of A Texas Life Tenant
A life tenant in Texas owes duties to future interest holders of said property:
- Pay extraordinary taxes and interest on a mortgage and income from said property.
- Not commit waste. Life tenants have a responsibility not to decrease the property’s value and exercise the kind of care that a prudent tenant would.
Suppose a life tenant breaches their duty of responsibility. In that case, they may be subject to damages determined by the remaindermen for the cost of repairs or may even have a court injunction.
Homestead Rights of the Surviving Spouse
The Texas constitution protects the rights of the surviving spouse to live in the shared home for the rest of their lifetime. Whether the house is community property or the deceased spouse’s property, the homestead property cannot be divided if the surviving spouse still lives on the property. Even if the surviving spouse remarries, their tenancy rights are protected if that spouse and their new partner live in the home.
Do You Need Help?
If you need assistance with a life estate or other types of estate planning, get in touch with a Texas estate planning lawyer who will help you navigate the often complicated process of life estate planning.