DEAR BOB: I own a house where my elderly mother holds a life estate. She lives alone in the house and may someday opt for a smaller apartment. If this happens, and she refuses to release her life estate, do I have any legal recourse? –Patrick L.
DEAR PATRICK: Legally, you are the remainderman, subject to your mother’s life estate.
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You should get a copy of the document that created her life estate. If it was well written, it should say that when your mother dies or moves out for longer than six months, her life estate terminates.
If the life-estate document was poorly written, it is open-ended and gives your mother a life estate without stating what happens if she moves out for longer than six months.
Should that happen, you would probably have to bring a quiet title lawsuit to terminate her life estate. For more details, please consult a local real estate attorney.
IF YOU OWN A HOUSE, YOU NEED A LIVING TRUST
DEAR BOB: Is there any way to leave my house to my three sons after my death other than through my will? I don’t think I have enough assets to merit having a living trust –Aida S.
DEAR AIDA: If title to your house passes under the terms of your will, and your will has to be probated in court, the attorney fees, other costs, and delays could be substantial.
However, if you hold title to your house and other major assets in your living trust, probate costs and delays are avoided.
Unless you die and leave a net estate exceeding $2 million in 2006 or 2007, there won’t be any federal estate tax due. Depending on your state of residence, there probably will be little or no state inheritance tax because you are leaving your assets to your sons who are close relatives. For details, please consult a local estate-planning attorney.
WHAT RECOURSE FOR NEIGHBOR’S DANGEROUS LEANING TREE?
DEAR BOB: A very large old tree in my neighbor’s backyard is leaning toward my house. It shows signs of significant rot and cracking at the base of the trunk. If it falls toward my house, it would easily cause significant damage and pose a major hazard, as it would crash through my bedroom. Besides asking my neighbors to cut down the tree, do I have any recourse? –Scott O.
DEAR SCOTT: Yes. You should consult your homeowner’s insurance agent. He or she will probably write a polite letter to the neighbor outlining the negligence if the neighbor doesn’t remove or at least trim the tree to reduce the hazard of its falling onto your house.
I recently had a similar situation at my home. I contacted our local code enforcement officer who notified my out-of-town neighbors about their two tall trees that were leaning toward my house. The absentee neighbors were very nice and had their two trees removed within a few weeks.
Presuming you have already tried being nice to the neighbor but without results, maybe it’s time to become more aggressive. After you contact your insurance agent, and the local code enforcement officer, you could sue the neighbor in a private nuisance abatement lawsuit. If the judge agrees the tree is a hazard, he or she could issue a court order to force the neighbor to abate the nuisance and remove the dangerous tree. For details, please consult a local real estate attorney.
The new Robert Bruss special report, “How to Buy Fixer-Upper Houses with Little or No Cash for Fun and Fortune,” is now available for $5 from Robert Bruss, 251 Park Road, Burlingame, CA 94010 or by credit card at 1-800-736-1736 or instant delivery at www.BobBruss.com. Questions for this column are welcome at either address.
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