The manner in which a property is deeded has serious legal and monetary consequences. Deeding your land to someone while retaining the ownership rights is known as a "life estate." In North Carolina and several other states, the owner of a life estate, or "life tenant,"
legally owns the property for the duration of the tenant's life. The life estate ends when the life tenant or any other person specified on the deed dies. Legal ownership reverts to the person or persons who deeded the property, referred to as the "remainderman" or "remaindermen."
Understand the rights of the life tenant before you deed. A life tenant in North Carolina may grow and sell crops and profit from farming but may be restricted from cutting trees for timber sales. The life tenant pays for ongoing maintenance and pays property taxes and assessments. If the property is mortgaged, the life tenant pays the interest but not the principal. The life tenant may sell his estate. The buyer purchases the rights to use the property for the lifetime of the specified person. The life tenant may not give away the property in her will if hers is the life specified on the deed. The property can only be sold with the consent of all the remaindermen.
Consult an accountant or tax adviser. Check how you currently hold title and find out how a life estate will affect your taxes. Ask your mortgage holder to explain your liabilities once the property has been deeded as a life estate. A deed for a life estate is complex and its wording must be correct. An example is: "to my wife for so long as she lives, remainder to my brother, John." The deed must be recorded in the county court system to become valid. It is a public record, open to anyone.
Meet with an attorney, who will draw up the deed. All owners of the property shown on the current deed will have to sign it in the presence of a notary public. The life tenant will also have to sign the deed and have it notarized. In North Carolina a spouse must sign even if the deed shows that the property has only one owner. This is because under N.C. Gen. Stat. Â§ 29-30 a spouse is automatically the heir in an intestate estate (one that doesn't have a will) and may elect to take a life estate in one-third of all real estate owned by the spouse who died.
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