Second marriages: giving your surviving spouse a life estate in your home

By Sally Wagley, Maine elder law and estate attorney

Consider the case of this typical client of ours, a man in his 60’s, married for the second time to a lovely woman, also in her 60’s. He has three grown children from his previous marriage and several grandchildren. She too has children and grandchildren of her own. Both have property, savings and investments of their own, which they wish to keep separate, and which they wish to leave directly to their own children rather than to each other.

When they marry, the wife moves into the husband’s home. The husband chooses to keep the home titled in his own name, rather than put his wife’s name on the deed, so that the home will ultimately go to his children when he dies. At the same time, he does not want his wife to have to move out of the home when he dies. He comes to us for advice.

One of the options we offer him is revising his will so as to provide his wife with a “life estate” in the home. The will we prepare for him states that should his wife survive him, she has the right to occupy the home for as long as she wants, provided she pays the expenses (taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance) and takes care of the home. Should she choose to move out of the home, the property will then belong to his children, who can do with it as they choose. If she remains there until she dies, then upon her death the husband’s children will at that point receive title to the home.

In this way, the husband can ensure that his wife will not be uprooted while at the same time ensuring that his children will inherit the property when she no longer needs it.