There was no legal will to probate, the property was in my and my brother and sisters names. My mother left a hand written paper giving me a life estate on her house. Do I have to live in the house to retain the life estate, or is the life estate I have even legal?
2 Answers from Attorneys
The life estate is only valid if the court accepts the letter your mother wrote as a valid will. They don't often allow this. If it's not allowed then you don't have a life estate and the house legally belongs to you and your siblings. You may want to hire and attorney to help you determine your rights.
Its not a question of whether the life estate is legal but whether the holographic will is legal. That I cannot answer without looking at the document. If the document is entirely in your mother's handwriting, is found among her important papers and purports to be a will, then it will probably be valid. If it does not meet these requirements, then it will not be valid. I would agree with Attorney David that you need to see a probate attorney and pay him or her to review the document and discuss it with you.
If the document is not a valid will, then you and your siblings would all share the house.
Regarding the life estate, no, you do not actually have to live in the house unless the will says otherwise. It could be a conditional life estate (for example, the will could require you to live there). If the will is silent, you could rent it out, but not sell it. You would be responsible for upkeep, insurance and maintainance of the property.
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