Law School
Law School
Nov 19, 2020
Property law: Estates in land - Life estate & Defeasible estate
18 min

In common law and statutory law, a life estate (or life tenancy) is the ownership of immovable property for the duration of a person's life. In legal terms, it is an estate in real property that ends at death when ownership of the property may revert to the original owner, or it may pass to another person. The owner of a life estate is called a "life tenant".

In the combined jurisdiction of England and Wales since 1925 a freehold estate intended to be 'held' as a life interest takes effect only as an interest enjoyed in equity, specifically as an interest in possession trust. The other type of land ownership is leasehold and although most long leases are for a period of between 99 and 999 years 'leases for life' will be interpreted in often unpredictable ways as either as a license or a lease.

A defeasible estate is created when a grantor transfers land conditionally. Upon the happening of the event or condition stated by the grantor, the transfer may be void or at least subject to annulment. (An estate not subject to such conditions is called an indefeasible estate.) Historically, the common law has frowned on the use of defeasible estates as it interferes with the owners' enjoyment of their property and as such has made it difficult to create a valid future interest. Unless a defeasible estate is clearly intended, modern courts will construe the language against this type of estate. Three types of defeasible estates are the fee simple determinable, the fee simple subject to an executory limitation or interest, and the fee simple subject to a condition subsequent.

Because a defeasible estate always grants less than a full fee simple, a defeasible estate will always create one or more future interests.

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