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What is a life estate in real property?

A life estate gives a person the right to live on or use property during the life estate owner’s lifetime or until his or her death.  Someone else is the full owner of the property. The person only has an ownership interest in the property as long as he or she is alive. Some people will use a life estate to avoid probate.

The way this works is that the property owner (grantor) has a deed prepared that gives the property to someone else (grantee) when the owner dies. The grantor has the right to live on and use the real property until death. At the grantor’s death the real property automatically goes to the grantee. After the life estate is created, generally the grantor cannot sell the property without the consent of the other person. This kind of deed should only be prepared by an attorney.