Written by attorney James S. Tupitza

Life Estate

Life Estate.

  1. A life estate endures for the life of one of more persons (“measuring life"). The measuring life can be the tenant’s, or, in what is known as “life estate per autre vie", the life of another person. During the estate, the life tenant can use and occupy the property until the estate is terminated by death. The persons entitled to use and occupy the property upon termination of the estate are known as “remaindermen".

a. A life tenant cannot expect the remaindermen to contribute for improvements, absent a provision or agreement to the contrary. [1]

b. During the estate, the life tenant has a right to income, profits, and rents from the property, absent a provision or agreement to the contrary. [2]

c. The life tenant’s right to exploit minerals and timber is not unlimited.

(i) “Open Mine Doctrine" - for the life tenant to open new mines, wells, or quarries not open at the creation of estate would be considered “waste." [3]

(ii) Timber use is not unlimited. [4]

d. The life estate can be sold, transferred, leased, devised, or passed by intestacy. [5]

e. The life tenant has an obligation to take reasonable steps to preserve the value of the property for the successor estate by performing maintenance and repairs, and preventing waste. [6]

[1]Ginder Estate, 68 Pa. D. & C. 2d 243 (1975).

[2]Winsor Estate, 11 Pa. D. & C. 2d 577 (1957).

[3]Cronan v. Castle Gas Co., 354 Pa. Super. 381, 512 A.2d 1 (1986); Doverspike v. Chambers, 357 Pa. Super. 539, 516 A.2d 392 (1986).

[4] Sanden v. Litzinger, 53 Pa. D. & C. 2d 268 (1971).

[5]Obviously, a life estate can only be passed by devise or intestate succession in the case of a life estate per autre vie, and only where the life tenant predeceases the measuring life.

[6]Bracken Estate, 13 Pa. D. & C. 2d 37 (1957).

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