My spouse gave me a life estate in our home. Am I responsible for paying insurance premiums and taxes on the property? Am I responsible for paying the mortgage?

In general, the life tenant is not required to keep the property insured, unless there is a specific agreement to do so. However, a life tenant does have an insurable interest in the property. An insurable interest is a substantial economic interest in the safety or preservation of the property. Because you live there, you have an insurable interest; therefore, you can insure the property if you want to. It may be a good idea to do so in order to protect both yourself and your interest in the house.  

Under West Virginia law, a life tenant is responsible for paying all ordinary taxes on the property. If the life tenant fails to pay the taxes, the state can foreclose on the property. In this situation, the remainderman’s interest will be seriously affected, and the life tenant will be liable to the remainderman. The remainderman is the person who will own the home after your life estate ends. However, you are only responsible for the taxes accrued during your possession of the property. Past-due taxes must be paid by the estate. 

If your spouse took out a mortgage on the property which is not paid off, you are responsible for paying the interest on the mortgage. However, you are not responsible for paying the principal of the mortgage. Furthermore, you will not even be responsible for paying the interest if it exceeds the fair rental value of the property.  

For more information, see: W. Va. Code § 11-3-8 (2015); Boggess v. Scott, 48 W. Va. 316, 37 S.E. 661 (1900) (questioned by Bailey v. Baker, 137 W. Va. 85, 68 S.E.2d 74, 70 S.E.2d 645 (1951)); McDougal v. Musgrave, 46 W. Va. 509, 33 S.E. 281 (1899); Irwin v. Zane, 15 W. Va. 646 (1879); 31 C.J.S. Estates §§44-46 (2009); 7A Michie’s Jurisprudence Estates §27 (2009).