What is a usufruct? Definition and examples

A usufruct is the right to use and enjoy a property that belongs to someone else. It is the legal right, for example, to derive income from another person’s property. However, the term does not include destroying the property. The person making use of the property must not damage it in any way.

The term may also refer simply to the right to enjoy or use something. This article focuses on the meaning of the term when it refers to somebody’s right to use another person’s property.

Many jurisdictions across the world do not recognize this legal right.

Merriam-Webster has the following two definitions of the term:

“1. The legal right of using and enjoying the fruits or profits of something belonging to another. 2. The right to use or enjoy something.”

In some usufructory property systems, people or groups may only acquire the right to use the property. They cannot, however, acquire the legal title. The ejido system in Mexico, for example, uses this system.

According to Wikipedia:

“A usufruct is directly equatable to a common-law life estate except that a usufruct can be granted for a term shorter than the holder’s lifetime (cestui que vie).”

Usufruct
A usufruct can last from a few years to a whole lifetime.

Etymology of usufruct

The etymology of a word is its history, where it came from, and how its meaning has evolved.

With the meaning ‘right to use another’s property without damaging it,’ the term emerged in the 1610s as ‘usufructuary.’

‘Usufructuary’ came from the Late Latin word Usufructus (usus et fructus), which meant ‘use and enjoyment.’

‘Usufructus’ came from the Latin word ‘Usus’ meaning ‘a use’ plus ‘Fructus,’ meaning ‘enjoyment, fruit.’

Usufruct in the United States

Only a few jurisdictions in the United States recognize usufruct. Louisiana, for example, does. In this context, jurisdiction refers to the power of a court or legal system over a geographical area.

If somebody in Louisiana has a usufruct in a property, they have the legal right to use it. They can even rent it out and not share the rental income with the property’s owner.

Wikipedia says the following regarding the state of Georgia:

“A usufruct is “rights or privileges usually arising out of landlord and tenant relationships, and with privileges granted to tenants holding less interest in real estate than estate for years.”

Scotland

According to Scots Law, a liferent is the right to receive the benefits of a property. However, the person does not have the right to dispose of it. This right is for life.

The person who has this right is a liferenter.

Ancient Rome

Under Roman Law, usufruct was a kind of personal servitude, which people at the time referred to as servitutes personarum.

It was one person’s beneficial right in somebody’s else’s property.

The usufructuary never became the full owner of the property. However, they had an interest in the property itself for either some years or a lifetime.

While not being able to sell the property, usufructuaries could sell their usufructory interest.

Video – What is a usufruct?

In this video, legal specialist Jonathan Perry explains what a usufruct is. He also tells us why and how the law in Louisiana is different from the rest of the country.