After successfully completing this topic, you will be able to
• distinguish between freehold and nonfreehold estates, and
• describe the characteristics of a life estate.
An estate refers to the degree, quantity, nature, and extent of interest (ownership rights) a person can have in real property. There are two types of estates
• freehold estates—ownership of the property, and
• nonfreehold estates—commonly called leasehold estates.
A freehold estate is ownership of the land, often called fee, fee simple, and fee simple absolute title. The word fee is derived from the old English term fief, meaning a feudal landholding. Fee simple absolute ownership is the highest ownership interest. Most property titles are held in fee. A fee simple estate can be held for an indefinite period, and includes life estates.
Voluntary Life Estates
A life estate conveys ownership only for the life of the owner. At the owner’s death, the property goes either to a remainderman or reverts to the grantor (who would have a “reversion estate.”) The owner of the life estate cannot will or sell the property, and is expected to pay all taxes and perform necessary maintenance.
For example, a son could buy a home for his mother to enjoy until her death. To prevent the mother from willing the property to a charity or another sibling, the son could deed the house to his mother as a life estate, giving himself a reversion estate. When she dies, title to the property would be vested in the son.
Alternatively, the son could give the mother the life estate and direct that his own child receive title to the property when the mother dies. The child would be a remainderman.
Another type of life estate is a legal life estate and comes about as one of the homestead protections. (See below.)
Florida law gives many protections to the owners of a homestead.
If the sole owner of a homestead dies without a will (Intestate), the spouse is not on the deed and there are children:
• the spouse gets a legal life estate, and
• the children are remaindermen.
The constitutional homestead right protects the family home from forced sale (execution) of the homestead by creditors for all debts, including credit card debt. The amount of homestead property exempt from forced sale is limited to 160 acres outside a city, or ½ acre inside the city.
The family homestead is not exempt from property taxes, special assessments, mortgages, vendor’s liens, or construction liens.
$25,000 is deducted from the first $50,000 of assessed value of the principal residence before taxes are applied. An additional $25,000 is deducted from the assessed value of the home (except for School Board taxes) from values of $50,000 to $75,000. See Unit 17 for more information.
A nonfreehold estate is also called a leasehold estate. The holder of a nonfreehold estate is called a tenant or lessee. Legal title is not conveyed in a nonfreehold estate. The property owner is called the landlord or lessor. The landlord owns a reversionary right to regain possession of the property at the end of the lease.
A lease is a nonfreehold estate
There are several categories of leasehold estates:
• A tenancy for years has a definite date for starting and ending. The agreement may be unwritten in tenancies for less than one year, but must be written if the period is for one year or more.
• A tenancy at will has a starting date but not a specific end date. A tenancy at will can be oral or written. The parties must give notice to terminate the tenancy: 7 days for week-to-week payment, and 15 days for monthly rent payments.
• A tenancy at sufferance is a holdover tenant, usually at the end of a lease. Neither party is required to give notice to terminate the tenancy.