Thanks, XXXXX XXXXX the additional info. I hadn't received any reply prior to this post.
Unless it is otherwise defined, a life estate
gives that person the right for his/her/their lifetime to reside in the described property, although they do not own it. Similarly, unless it is otherwise defined, that privilege also has traditional responsibilities - it is not a free ride!
The life tenant must pay for their own utilities; the must maintain the property; they cannot commit waste; they are responsible for the property taxes (in this case on the portion of the property they are occupying, most likely); and if there is a mortgage (which the life tenant received the benefit of), the life tenant is responsible for the interest costs on that mortgage. The life tenant does not have to undertake capital improvements to the property, however, which is often a source of contention (because replacing a roof, for instance, is considered to be a capital improvement - you can see how something like that could be a source of conflict).
Based on your description, your fiance's mother is not meeting her obligation. If this is just out of ignorance because she believes that the life estate is meant to be a rent-free obligation-free stay, then 'updating' her understanding of the situation may help.
But if she still refuses, your fiance is stuck making some very difficult decisions. Her failure to meet her obligations as the life tenant is called "waste" in 'legalize'. Her son could sue her for 'waste', and use that as a basis for asking the court to terminate the life estate and/or ask for a money judgment for the costs he has born that was her responsibility.
Shy of taking a step such as that, your fiance is basically left only with the tools of persuasion and negotiation. If prodding to get her to cover her fair share voluntarily has no effect, perhaps he could let it slip that because she is not paying her rightful portion of the costs related to her occupancy of that property, he risks losing the whole thing to foreclosure
. It is possible that her life estate would be terminated in that proceeding, but even if it didn't, because she has committed 'waste' by not paying her proper share, a new owner would be able to have her life estate terminated in court. The new owner would have no concern for her, and would want her out as soon as possible to be able to take maximum economic advantage of the property.
Aside from efforts at compulsion such as the above paragraph, there is not a lot your fiance can do to twist her arm if she remains stubborn and if he is not willing to take this to court (which considering that it is his mom you're dealing with is a reasonable position to take).
One thing I do want to bring to the table is a question of whether your fiance does have an unwritten obligation to mom to carry the costs of her occupancy. For instance, if the property was actually worth much more than $50,000 at the time he bought it from his parents for that price, or even if it has appreciated substantially and is worth many multiples of that sum today, was the bargain he got in that purchase as their son meant to be the exchange value for their lifetime occupancy of a portion of the property? Just a thought.
I hope this has been helpful. Let me know if you have any followup questions. If none, please remember to click on the ACCEPT link so that I may receive credit for working on this topic with you. (I'd greatly appreciate it!)
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