Mistranslations: usufructo is not (necessarily) a “life interest” in property

In the last few weeks I have seen usufructo translated into English variously as “life interest,” “life interest trust” and “life estate.” All of these translations imply that usufructo is, by definition, always a grant of the use and enjoyment of property for the lifetime of the beneficiary.

This translation is misleading and may be patently incorrect in many contexts when, for example, usufructo is granted for a specific period of time (called usufructo a plazo, usufructo a término, usufructo temporal or usufructo constituido por tiempo determinado). An example of usufructo a plazo would be the usufruct of a dwelling granted to the guardian of a minor child until the child reaches the age of majority. In such cases usufructo may perhaps be rendered as “beneficial interest” or even “beneficial ownership,” given that “beneficial owner” is “one recognized as the owner of something because use and title belong to that person, even though legal title may belong to someone else” (Black’s Law Dictionary).

Usufructo is likewise often subject to a condition (usufructo condicional), being another mode of usufruct that cannot be translated as “life interest,” “life interest trust” or “life estate.” Indeed, usufructo may be subject to a condition precedent (condición suspensiva), such as usufructo granted to a son or daughter provided that he/she marries. Likewise usufructo condicional may be subject to a condition subsequent (condición resolutoria), such as usufructo granted to a son/daughter that will terminate if he/she doesn’t marry by the time he/she is thirty years old. These are admittedly silly examples but that, once again, demonstrate that usufructo cannot always be equated with a “lifetime interest” or “lifetime estate.”

In summary, perhaps it is best to translate usufructo (a secas) as “beneficial interest” and reserve “life interest,” “life interest trust” and “life estate” for situations that actually refer to usufructo vitalicio.

See more on usufructo here: