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Volume 3 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 45

Opinions of Counsel index

Assessment roll (designation of owner) (life tenant) - Real Property Tax Law, § 502:

A life tenant in possession should be considered the owner of the real property for purposes of taxation and such property is properly assessable in the name of the life tenant.

We have received an inquiry concerning the listing on an assessment roll of real property which is subject to a life estate. The assessor indicated that he had received copies of several deeds containing a clause reserving to the grantor a life use or life tenancy in the real property described therein. Under such conveyance a grantee is termed a remainderman. A remainderman, defined simply, is one who is entitled to the remainder of the estate after a particular estate carved out of it has expired (In re Mawhinney’s Wil, 146 Misc. 30, 261 N.Y.S. 334).

A life tenant in possession holds as trustee for the remainderman and, ordinarily, is entitled to all of the customary uses and profits of the property, although he may not lawfully commit any act which would harm the interest of the remainderman or the reversioner and if such acts are committed the life tenant is liable to an action for waste (Matter of Hamlin, 141 App. Div. 318, 126 N.Y.S. 396; Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law, § 801).

The law is well settled that a person who has the use of real property for his or her life has a “freehold estate” and is considered, during his or her lifetime, the owner thereof and must pay taxes thereon (Deraismes v. Deraismes, 72 N.Y. 154; In re Detmold’s Estate, 52 Hun 142, 4 N.Y.S. 903; Ackerman v. State, 199 Misc. 76, 102 N.Y.S.2d 536).

As stated in the case of In re McCarty’s Estate, 158 Misc. 287, 285 N.Y.S. 641, (at p. 642):

It is familiar law that during his life the life tenant is the exclusive owner of the land so held by him, with the exclusive right to its possession, control, and enjoyment, subject only to certain well-defined limitations or duties; the owner of the reversion or remainder in fee has no present right of enjoyment, no tangible and physical ownership of the land, but has a future incorporeal interest or estate in the land which will ripen into ownership of the land itself on the death of the life tenant.

Therefore, it is our opinion that a life tenant in possession should be considered the owner of the real property for purposes of taxation and such property assessable in the name of the life tenant. We might also add that should such life tenant meet the requirements of an exemption statute (e.g., Real Property Tax Law, §§ 458 and 467, relating to veterans and elderly persons respectively), an exemption should be allowed on the property.

August 27, 1973

Updated: