Division III: Parents Keep the Life Estate They Intended, Including Timber. Sons' Hopes Splintered.
For the law students in the room: H and W keep a life estate in Blackacre, conveying the rest to their sons, A and B, their sons. Son C moves onto the property. Parents become estranged from A, B, and daughter D.
Now, the only valuable asset on the land is timber. Generally, in a life estate, you get the property to use as if it was yours fully, only you can’t waste it.
Here, they documented this, but in the official conveyance, did not reserve the life estate. The sons, who did not yet own the land under the life estate, negotiated a rental with the other son (C), and interfered with their parents’ management of their own timber and life estate. The son that moved in started manipulating and isolating his parents as well.
Then A and B entered into an agreement with H & W, which “gave” them less rights than they had under the life estate.
Anyhow, the Court granted the life estate to the parents to do what they liked with the property, including timber activities.
Sitting in equity, the trial court sought to give effect to the parties' original intent. Roy and Rubye's continued financial security was a paramount concern. Courts may impose a constructive trust to give effect to the parties' intent. . . .
The trial court noted that a numerical limit would have prevented Roy and Rubye Ames from effectively managing the forest. The court found that the life estate was intended to allow Roy Ames to harvest timber on the land to the extent he and his wife needed the proceeds. Roy Ames had been frugal in the past decades and the couple had need for increased harvesting. The sons do not challenge these findings.
The court also noted that the doctrine of waste would have allowed the parents to thin the trees for forest health, and that they really intended to keep the entire estate, outside the doctrines of waste. The trial court’s ruling allowing harvesting up to a certain point, and any proper thinning, was fine.
When considering a gift to loved ones, be sure to have it in writing, to spell out the conditions, and to discuss your intentions fully. It prevents situations like this. The Estate and Probate Attorneys at Issaquah Legal Services are more than happy to help with your estate planning and probate needs.