How Can Owners of House Sell It Despite Heir’s Life Interest?

 In Pets
Life interest granted in will

Photo by Lance Asper on Unsplash


In Florida, a property was owned by Robert, Maria and Nancy (tenants in common, all siblings). Maria passed away in 2016 leaving her share to her heirs (her children since she was a widow), Marlene and Joe. Nancy passed away in 2023 leaving her share via will to her daughter Yvette. Nancy’s husband, Juan, who is not Yvette’s father, is still living in the property but not paying anything towards the mortgage or the upkeep of the property. Our attorney has said that Juan has a life estate interest in the property. What exactly does that mean? Robert, Joe, Marlene and Yvette want to simply sell the property and split the proceeds. How does Juan factor into all this?


The answer depends on what either the deed or Nancy’s will say. There’s an inconsistency in what you report. You say that Nancy’s will gave her interest to Yvette. But the lawyer says that Juan has a life estate. Nancy may have given him this interest through her will or by a deed.

Let’s assume she did so through her will. That would mean that four people have an interest in the property, Robert, Maria, Yvette and Juan. Robert and Maria each own a one-third interest, as does Yvette, except that Yvette’s share is subject to Juan’s right to live in the house. Whether Juan has any obligation to contribute to the costs of maintaining the house depends on what Nancy wrote in her will. But he doesn’t have the exclusive right to live there since Robert and Maria are co-owners. They have the right to live there as well or to rent out rooms to others to help cover expenses.

In addition, if Juan only has the right to live in the house, but does not have an ownership interest, the three owners can sell it. But Juan’s rights may be a bit unclear. The lawyer used the term “life estate interest” which would imply that Juan has an ownership interest, rather than simply a right to live in the house. I can’t tell without reading the will what Juan has, and even after reading it, it might not be clear, which is one reason I don’t like giving people the right to live in property through wills. A deed or the use of a separate trust would clarify these issues.

Let’s assume the lawyer was not simply using a term of art when describing Juan’s interest and that Juan really does have an ownership interest in the property. In that case, the other three owners, Robert, Maria, and Yvette, could not simply sell the house on their own, but any one of them, or all three together, could bring a partition action to force its sale. Then Juan would be forced to move out.

So, the bottom line is that either Robert, Maria, and Yvette together already have the right to sell the property or could force a sale by bringing an action for partition. Making Juan aware of this reality may be sufficient to convince him to pay or contribute to the costs of maintaining the property or agreeing to move out.

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