Life Estate - A life estate interest in real estate which typically give one the right to occupy the land until one's death, but the life estate tenant has no right to direct who owns the property after their death. The life tenant's tenancy or estate dies with them.
After the civil war, but before Carnegie bought most of the island, a large slave plantation on the island had been disbanded, leaving a substantial community of ex-slaves. Their descendants maintained a community on the island until about a generation ago. In fact, the picturesque First African Baptist Church still stands and hosted the wedding of JFK, Jr., in the 1990s. In the waning days of the community, as many children were choosing to move to and stay on the mainland, the remaining residents accepted offers to sell their shares to the National Park Service with the right to keep a "life estate." I don't know if the residents got good deals or not, but as a result of only having life estates, the resident's families did not inherit any interest in the property. In my world, the most common use of life estates is where parents will deed property to their children and keep a life estate. I usually don't recommend that because there are often better options, but there are times when it make sense.
Almost all of the life estates on Cumberland Island have terminated, and most of the land is federally owned. However, there is one 80-something-year-old woman with a life estate interest in a tiny parcel deep in the island: Carol Ruckdeschel. Carol is a hunter of wild boar, a sea turtle whisperer, and an advocate for the island. She's also killed a man. There is actually a book about this woman that Rizza and I started listening to on the way home called Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island by Will Harlan, a former ranger on the island. I can't do a better job than the book jacket in the describing Carol:
Carol Ruckdeschel is the wildest woman in America. She eats road kill, wrestles alligators, rides horses bareback, and lives in a ramshackle cabin that she built herself in an island wilderness. She’s had three husbands and many lovers, one of whom she shot and killed in self-defense. A combination of Henry David Thoreau and Jane Goodall, Carol is a self-taught scientist who has become a tireless defender of sea turtles on Cumberland Island, a national park off the coast of Georgia.
Sounds like a fun woman, right? She was actually pretty nice when we met her, but I wouldn't mess with her.