My father passed away in December 2003. My stepmother has life time rights to the house on 2 acres of land. My sister and I are owners of the house and all other property. There is still a mortgage on the house. We are currently paying the mortgage. What financial obligations does she has towards the mortgage or the house.
Your step mother appears to have a life estate in the house. Her responsibilities in that life estate are primarily governed by the legal document that created the life estate she has. Often this is done under a will. So if your father's will provided her the life estate, then you need to meet with an estate or probate attorney and have him or her review the will and explain the implications of her obligations. Some wills leave little guidance. Others provide considerable detail as to who pays what expense, how long she can live in the house (its not always limited to life, e.g. what if she enters a nursing home?). If the life estate was created in a deed than you need to first review the deed with an attorney to determine her obligations under that deed. Once you've determined the parameters of the governing legal document, have the lawyer research and explain to you what state law (case law, etc.) provides concerning a life estate. State law may have to be used to fill in the gaps in what the legal documents don't address. Here's a novel idea that might be more important than the mere understanding of the technicalities. The situation you face (step mother, etc.) could be fraught with emotional difficulties. No one (well, except the lawyers who bill hourly) will benefit if there is strife between the kids and step mother. What if all of you (step mother and all kids) hire a neutral lawyer and request that he prepare a legal memorandum for everyone as to what he sees are the legal obligations of everyone. Have this lawyer address common or likely scenarios now, so if an issue arises you all have guidance to follow instead of anyone getting upset. For example, if there is a leak in the roof who repairs it? If the roof has to be replaced who pays for it? That might be the kids becasue that is a capital improvement that might benefit you. On the other hand, if your step mother is 34 years old and the roof is a 15 year life roof only she will benefit. And so on. You all might have to acknowledge in writting to the lawyer that you are aware of the different objectives of the step mother and children and that you will each seek your own lawyers if a fight develops and not hold this lawyer responsible, etc. That's probably all fine to do (the lawyer you see will advise you). But the cost you all pay now for impartial guidance could prevent years of heartache and strife.
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