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Titling Florida Property As a Life Estate or Enhanced Life Estate

There are number of ways to title property and structure ownership in the state of Florida, one of which is by structuring ownership as a life estate. What follows is a closer look at life estates broadly, as well as a relatively rare form of life estate titling known as an enhanced life estate deed.

How Life Estate Ownership Is Structured

By titling property as a life estate, the ownership interest will essentially be divided between two people as determined by the current owner (grantor). The first person who will receive an ownership interest from the grantor is known as a “life tenant,” who is the individual holding a life estate interest in the property. The life tenant owns the whole land or property and can use it rent-free for the duration of their life. Moreover, the life tenant may also do whatever they wish with the property for as long as they live.

Once a life tenant passes away, however, ownership interests in the property will then be transferred to the “remainder beneficiary” specified by the grantor. A remainder beneficiary — also called a remainderman — cannot possess the property until the life tenant has passed away.

However, the life tenant’s ability to use the property in any legal way is paired with the expectation that the life tenant is responsible for:

  • Paying property taxes
  • Paying any necessary homeowners’ association costs and dues
  • Maintaining the property
  • Not intentionally wasting, damaging or demolishing the property

There are additional limitations put in place for a life tenant as well. Since property interests do not survive the life tenant, they are not allowed to create a will that leaves the land or property to someone of their choosing. The life tenant is also not allowed to do anything that could prevent a remainderman from fully using the property, as this is a violation of Florida law.

Frequently, the grantor and life tenant are the same person under this form of titling Florida property. Key advantages of this form of titling include:

  • Titling as a life estate is relatively simple and low cost with the help of a Jacksonville Florida estate planning attorney
  • The probate process can be avoided entirely because of the remainder interests
  • The life tenant’s occupancy rights are protected, no matter what circumstances or unexpected difficulties arise

Still, there are reasons why structuring as an enhanced life estate deed is more advantageous than a more basic life estate titling approach.

Enhanced Life Estate Deeds

An enhanced life estate deed is also commonly referred to as a “Lady Bird” deed. Enhanced life estate deeds took on this nickname once former President Lyndon B. Johnson allegedly conveyed property to his wife — Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson — via an enhanced life estate deed.

Florida is one of just a select few states that recognize Lady Bird deeds, which differ from the more traditional life estate titling in a couple key respects. Enhanced life estate deeds do, however, bear similarity to traditional life estate deeds in the following ways:

  • A grantor frequently transfers property to him or herself as the life tenant
  • The life tenant can also do whatever they lawfully wish with the property under an enhanced life estate deed
  • Remainder beneficiaries will still have no rights to the property for as long as the life tenant is alive

However, Lady Bird deeds are unique in that the grantor can change his or her mind regarding who the final beneficiary (grantee) should be without consent or input from the remaindermen. An additional unique and sometimes used benefit of Lady Bird deeds is that a grantor may transfer the future interest in the property to the remaindermen, all while retaining the capability of mortgaging or selling the property during the grantor’s life.

If you have any questions about whether a life estate or an enhanced life estate deed is ideal for your Florida estate plan, contact us to discuss your legal questions with a Jacksonville Florida estate planning lawyer.

The Judy-Ann Smith Law Firm helps clients with all aspects of estate planning and probate estate administration. To learn more, contact us in Jacksonville today at 904-562-1369.