Can Americans leave an estate to someone only for a time?

In Sherlock Holmes stories, my bible and only reference on British customs, many a castle is willed to one heir for her lifetime, but on her death the estate doesn’t go to her heirs but to the next in line of the first owner’s family.

I don’t think I can do that, can I, will my estate to my sister for her lifetime, then skip her kids and have it go to our younger brother?

yes you can. they’re called “life estates”

person A can get the property for his life, but on death the property goes to the remainderman - that remainderman can be whoever the original landowner wants. but you can’t violate the rule against perpetuities. suffer the wrath of Blackacre if you do!

Yes! My step-mother did this to my dad. When he died, the house went to her son. He could live there as long as he didn’t remarry, or vacate for more than 30 days. What a screwin’!

In addition to life estates, English common law also had the entailed estate - the property descended through the family line, usually according to male primogeniture.

The diference between the two was that when the remainderman of a life estate inherited, he/she was the full owner of the property and could do whatever he/she wanted with it, including selling it to someone entirely unconnected to the family. That couldn’t be done with an entail, so long as there were still heirs of the original deedsman. (It’s actually even more complicated than that, but that’s the gist of it.)

I think entail has been abolished in most if not all American jurisdictions, because it was so closely tied to aristocratic models of life.

Although you can still convey life estates in real property (but not personal property) the better practice is to do what the OP suggests by means of a trust. Not only does the use of a trust (whether granted in a will or during life) provide more flexibility, it also may have significant estate tax planning advantages.

For instance, in the OP’s example, the OP could provide in his will that his assets (or some of them) will go into a trust, and that the income from that trust will be given to (or used to support) his sister for his lifetime, and that on the sister’s death, that the remainder be given to his brother (or anyone else). The trust might have a provision that the trustee can invade the principal to give to the sister in case she needs it. Trusts like these are common when a beneficiary has a mental or physical disability (or general financially imprudent nature) such that the grantor thinks the beneficiary should not have direct control of the bequest.

This is like the fourth Esates & Trusts question today. It’s starting to look like a Restatement around here.

I know an 80 year old man whose parents left him a moderately substantial life trust. He is a brilliant mathematician but, shall I say, somewhat lacking in practical sense. When he dies, the trust ends and he can will it however he pleases. I have to say that this trust has complicated his life enormously, however, and I would not recommend it. For example, since the trust is in California and he lives in Montreal, he has to file Canadian, Quebec, US, and California tax returns with foreign tax credits going every which way. So he has to pay an accountant to sort out the tax laws of the four jurisdictions at considerable expense. Even accountants who specialize in filling out both US and Canadian forms will not understand the tax codes of California.

Probably not legal at this point.

I’d say it is, in the State of Illinois anyhow. If the decedent can specify the religion of the inheritor’s spouse it stands to reason they can specify whether or not remarriage actually occurring will lead to some form of disinheritance. IANAL of course.

Who got screwed? It was her house to bequeath, wasn’t it? It could have gone directly to her son, but she chose to provide the home for as long as your dad needed it. I think that was pretty nice of her. She must have liked him.

In the USA, this is called a fee tail estate. Illinois abolished it around 1900, and it probably is abolished in most if not all states now.

Sure you can. But any interest so created must vest, if ever, within 21 years after the death of a life in being at the time of the creation of the interest.


Say I wasn’t on good terms with the step-son.

What possible reason would I keep up the house? New roof? Shit…not my roof…I’m not blowing several grand on that. New windows? Pssshaw. Cracks in the foundation? Not my problem!

If I did plan on leaving within a couple years, why bother paying property taxes? Not MY house!

Is there something in the agreement/will that covers this?

As a practical matter, the down side of life estates is that the occupant-for-life tends to allow the place to fall into disrepair. Not much incentive to keep it up.

ETA: Or what BlinkingDuck just said.

It’s covered by the doctrine of waste.

The Rule of Perpetuities does not apply to a fee tail (which was created by using the words “and the heirs of his body.” The interest of the “heirs of his body” vests upon the devisee’s death. So the interest is created immediately upon the death of a life in being. The fee tail merely imposes a limitation: the regular and general succession of heirs is cut off.

I’ve seen this happen, as others have said, with second families. Of then husband, will leave the house to his wife, for the rest of her life. She can do as it as she sees fit, but she can’t sell it, nor can she leave it to anyone. At the end of her life, it reverts to one of the biological children.

I’ve seen it done with rings and other family herilooms, this way the wife can use it for her life, but when she dies it goes back into the biological family.

OK, but what if I wanted to leave an estate to someone that lasts until 20 years and 364 days past a nuclear holocaust. Could I do that?
What if I wanted to leave Blackacre to a fertile octogenarian so long as there’s no dancing on the property?
What if I gave a fee to ease the easement on defeasible fee simple? Huh? What then?!?

For complex rules, you’d leave it to a trust. The trust could enforce such rules on how the assets are used/dispensed.

The Rule against Perpetuities is that title must vest, if at all, not later than 21 years, plus period of gestation, after some life or lives in being at time of creation of the title. That was the common law, but some states have modified it. What you describe here has nothing to do with vesting of title, but of defeasance of title. These are known as condition subsequents.

I don’t understand the last hypothetical: “ease the easement on defeasible fee simple.” A defeasible fee simple is a fee subject to a condition subsequent. It has nothing to do with easements on the property. Once you convey the fee simple, you no longer have any control of the property unless the fee was based on a condition subsequent, violation of which would revert the title back to you. You cannot re-convey the property without restrictions after you have conveyed it with conditions. If you wish to abrogate the conditions, all the parties which may obtain a right or interest by the condition must consent to an abrogation agreement.