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Matteson v. Walsh

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Matteson sued Walsh for waste when Walsh’s failure to maintain and pay taxes on property risked Matteson’s interest in the property.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A life tenant commits waste if he fails to pay taxes and maintain the property.

    Facts.

    Walsh devised property to her son, Robert Walsh (Robert), and the remainder to his heirs and his sisters, Elizabeth Matteson (Elizabeth), and Catherine Baisly (Catherine). When Robert stopped paying taxes on the property and allowed the property to go into disrepair, Elizabeth and Catherine stepped in to pay the taxes and repair the property for five years. Robert only repaid his sister for two of the five years. Elizabeth sued Robert for waste and the judge terminated Robert’s life estate. Robert appealed after the judge ordered that Robert, Elizabeth, and Catherine hold title as tenants in common.

    Issue.

    Whether a life tenant commits waste if he fails to pay taxes and maintain the property?

    Held.

    Yes. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed in part and reversed in part. Robert is guilty of waste because the property would have gotten taken away if Elizabeth did not step in to pay the property’s taxes. Robert also committed waste by allowing the property to fall into disrepair.

    Discussion.

    If a life tenant commits waste, then a future interest holder can sue for damages. Although Robert’s life estate should be terminated because of waste, the property interest cannot be transformed into a different property interest. Therefore the transfer happens as if Robert’s life estate was terminated by death to his heirs and sisters.


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