My mom was the life tenant and I got the house. What’s next?


Q. My mother passed away in 2018. I’m the remainderman on a Life Estate Deed she set up for her townhome in Cherry Hill. She was the life tenant. I have the Life Estate Deed and her death certificate. At the time of her death, our lawyer said I already owned the property and nothing had to be done. Therefore, I never changed the name on the deed to my name. But, any mail from the state, including rebate checks, arrive made out to my mother’s estate, but the bank isn’t letting me deposit the checks because they are not in my name. In addition, if I sell the property, I think it would be easier if the deed had my name on it instead of it being a Life Estate Deed showing my Mom as the grantor and me as the grantee. I’d also like any state rebate checks to arrive with my name on them. To update the deed so only my name is on it, do I go to the tax assessor or do I have to go through a lawyer that handles deed transfers?
— Heir

A. Dealing with a property after the owner has died can be complicated and depends a lot on the specifics.

Let’s go over a few items here.

Assuming the deed from your mother, as grantor, to your mother as life tenant and you as remainderman was properly prepared and recorded, then during your mother’s lifetime, your mother had the right to live on and use the property during her life while you owned a remainder interest in the property, said Catherine Romania, an estate planning attorney with Witman Stadtmauer in Florham Park.

“If you both agreed to sell the property during your mother’s lifetime, each of you would have been entitled to a portion of the sales proceeds based upon your mother’s life expectancy,” she said. “Moreover, each of you would have had to sign the deed into the names of the new buyers; your mother as the life tenant and you as the remainderman, because you each owned an interest in the property.”

Upon your mother’s death, the life estate terminated and the entire property became yours, Romania said.

“You did not need to record an additional deed or document upon your mother’s death, as confirmed by your attorney,” she said. “However, if the tax records, insurance, utility bills or any other bills were in your mother’s name and being paid by her, you do need to notify the tax assessor and all of the providers that your mother has passed and the records should reflect that you are the sole owner.”

When you decide to sell the property, it is common practice to reference the termination of the life estate in the deed that you provide to the buyer by indicating that your mother, as the life tenant referenced in the prior deed, died and her date of death, Romania said.

“Meanwhile, the checks you received made payable to your mother or her estate will have to be cashed through an estate account, which is opened by the executor or administrator of your mother’s estate,” she said.

Keep in mind, though, that you may not qualify for the same benefits your mom did based on age and income level.

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This story was originally published on July 4, 2023. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.