Q: Our mother did a life estate deed. She put the house in the names of my two siblings and me. In this house she has an illegal apartment. My question is can she rent this apartment out without our permission and in the event if anyone decides to turn her in for an illegal apartment, who is responsible? Is it our mother or us?

A: Life estates are a curious instrument. The person owning the life estate has the exclusive use of the property during her ownership of that life estate. It’s as if she owned the home during her lifetime. However, you and your siblings have a remainder interest in the home. The life estate owner should not do anything to the home or the land that would either destroy or impair the remainder man’s interest in the property.

Municipal code violations take several forms. If it’s simply a fine, your mother would have to pay the fine. However, in some municipalities, the government has the right to cause a home to be torn down due to code violations. Obviously, that type of code violation and that type of harm to the property would go directly towards destroying the value of your remainder.

If the life estate holder takes actions that could harm the remainder, the holder of the remainder has the right to protect his or her interests in the remainder.

In short, if your mother is fined, she should have to pay the fine.

Jan. 19, 2009.