Full Overview Of Bequest

A bequest is a legal term used to describe the act of giving personal property or assets to a specific individual or entity through a will. In estate planning, bequests are a fundamental aspect, allowing individuals to designate how their assets will be distributed upon their death. The flexibility and specificity afforded by bequests make them a powerful tool in ensuring that one’s final wishes are respected and fulfilled.

Types of Bequests

Bequests can take various forms, each serving different purposes and catering to the unique needs of the testator (the person making the will). Here, we delve into the primary types of bequests commonly included in wills:

Specific Bequest

A specific bequest involves the allocation of a particular item or a specified amount of money to a named beneficiary. This could be anything from a piece of jewellery, a family heirloom, a sum of cash, or a specific stock or bond. The key characteristic of a specific bequest is its precision; the item or amount is distinctly identified in the will.

Example: “I bequeath my diamond ring to my niece, Emily.”

General Bequest

In contrast to a specific bequest, a general bequest does not refer to a particular item or asset but rather to a general sum of money or property. This type of bequest is usually satisfied out of the general assets of the estate.

Example: “I bequeath £10,000 to my friend, John.”

Demonstrative Bequest

A demonstrative bequest is a hybrid between specific and general bequests. It involves a monetary sum that is to be paid from a particular source or asset. If the specified source is insufficient, the remaining amount is drawn from the general estate.

Example: “I bequeath £5,000 to be paid from the sale of my shares in XYZ Corporation to my cousin, Sarah.”

Residuary Bequest

A residuary bequest pertains to the remainder of the estate after all specific, general, and demonstrative bequests have been satisfied, as well as the payment of debts, taxes, and expenses. The residuary beneficiary receives what is left of the estate.

Example: “I bequeath the residue of my estate to my spouse, Jane.”

Contingent Bequest

A contingent bequest is conditional, meaning it only takes effect if a certain condition is met. This type of bequest provides flexibility in estate planning, addressing various potential future scenarios.

Example: “I bequeath £10,000 to my nephew, Thomas, if he graduates from university.”

Importance of Bequests in Estate Planning

Bequests play a crucial role in estate planning for several reasons:

Fulfilment of Final Wishes

By including bequests in a will, individuals can ensure that their specific wishes regarding the distribution of their assets are honoured. This personal touch can provide peace of mind, knowing that loved ones and cherished causes will be taken care of according to one’s desires.


Bequests offer considerable flexibility, allowing testators to tailor their estate plans to fit their unique circumstances. Whether it’s providing for family members, friends, or charitable organisations, bequests can be customised to reflect personal values and priorities.

Clarity and Avoidance of Disputes

Clearly defined bequests can help prevent disputes among heirs and beneficiaries. By specifying who gets what, testators can reduce ambiguity and minimise the potential for conflicts that might arise during the administration of the estate.

Tax Considerations

In some jurisdictions, bequests can have significant tax implications. For example, charitable bequests may qualify for estate tax deductions, reducing the overall tax liability of the estate. Strategic use of bequests can thus be an effective tool in estate planning to optimise tax outcomes.

To ensure that bequests are legally enforceable, several key requirements must be met:

Testamentary Capacity

The testator must have the legal capacity to make a will. This means they must be of sound mind and understand the nature and extent of their assets, the act of making a will, and the implications of the bequests being made.

Voluntary Intent

The will must be made voluntarily, without any undue influence, coercion, or fraud. It should reflect the genuine wishes of the testator.

Written and Signed Document

The will must be in writing and signed by the testator. Additionally, it typically needs to be witnessed by at least two individuals who are not beneficiaries under the will. The specific requirements can vary depending on the jurisdiction.

Challenges to Bequests

Despite the best efforts made in drafting a will, bequests can sometimes be contested. Common grounds for challenging bequests include:

Lack of Testamentary Capacity

If it is believed that the testator lacked the mental capacity to make a will, the validity of the bequests can be called into question.

Undue Influence

Claims of undue influence arise when it is alleged that the testator was coerced or manipulated into making certain bequests. Proving undue influence requires demonstrating that the testator’s free will was overpowered by another person.

Fraud or Forgery

Bequests can be contested if there is evidence that the will was forged or if the testator was deceived into making specific bequests.

Ambiguities in the Will

Ambiguous or unclear language in the will can lead to disputes over the interpretation of bequests. It is crucial to use precise and unambiguous language when drafting a will to minimise such issues.

Charitable Bequests

Charitable bequests are a popular way for individuals to leave a lasting legacy and support causes they care about. These bequests can take various forms, including:

Cash Donations

A specific sum of money left to a charitable organisation.

Property Donations

Real estate or other valuable property bequeathed to a charity.


Funds established to provide ongoing financial support to a charitable cause.

Charitable bequests can have significant tax benefits, as many jurisdictions offer tax deductions for donations made to qualifying organisations.

Administration of Bequests

The process of administering bequests involves several key steps:

Identifying and Valuing Assets

The executor of the will must first identify all the assets of the estate and determine their value. This includes both tangible and intangible assets.

Paying Debts and Taxes

Before bequests can be distributed, the estate’s debts, taxes, and expenses must be settled. This ensures that the estate is solvent and that creditors are paid.

Distributing Bequests

Once debts and taxes are paid, the executor distributes the bequests according to the instructions in the will. This may involve transferring ownership of specific items, liquidating assets, or writing checks to beneficiaries.

Keeping Records

The executor must maintain detailed records of all transactions and distributions to ensure transparency and accountability. Beneficiaries should receive a final accounting of the estate.


Bequests are an important part of estate planning, allowing individuals to specify how they want their assets distributed. By understanding different types of bequests, the legal requirements for creating a valid will, and the process of administering bequests, individuals can ensure that their estate plans are thorough and secure. When done properly, bequests can provide peace of mind, minimise the potential for conflicts, and create a lasting legacy for loved ones and charitable causes. Seeking guidance from legal professionals can be helpful in navigating the complexities of estate planning and ensuring that one’s final wishes are respected.

Bequest FAQ'S

A bequest is a gift left to someone in a will. It can include money, personal property, real estate, or other assets. Bequests are specific instructions within a will about how the testator (the person who made the will) wants their property to be distributed after their death.

There are several types of bequests:

  • Specific Bequest: A particular item or specific amount of money left to a particular person or organization.
  • Pecuniary Bequest: A fixed sum of money left to a beneficiary.
  • Residuary Bequest: A percentage or all of what remains of the estate after other bequests, debts, and expenses have been paid.
  • Demonstrative Bequest: A gift from a particular source or fund, such as a specific bank account or investment.

To ensure bequests are clear and enforceable, it is essential to:

  • Use precise language and clearly identify the beneficiaries.
  • Describe the assets or amounts being bequeathed in detail.
  • Regularly update the will to reflect changes in assets or personal circumstances.
  • Seek legal advice when drafting or updating the will to ensure it complies with legal requirements.

Yes, a bequest can be contested, typically on grounds such as:

  • Lack of testamentary capacity (the testator was not of sound mind).
  • Undue influence (the testator was pressured or coerced).
  • Fraud or forgery.
  • The will not being properly executed. Legal challenges must be resolved through the courts.

If a beneficiary predeceases the testator, the bequest typically lapses, meaning it fails and becomes part of the residuary estate unless the will specifies an alternative beneficiary. However, if the beneficiary is a direct descendant of the testator, the gift may pass to their children under certain conditions.

Bequests may be subject to Inheritance Tax (IHT) if the total value of the estate exceeds the tax-free threshold (nil-rate band). However, gifts to spouses, civil partners, and charities are usually exempt from IHT. The tax is paid from the estate before distribution to the beneficiaries.

Yes, a bequest can be conditional. The testator can specify conditions that must be met for the beneficiary to receive the gift, such as reaching a certain age, completing education, or fulfilling other criteria. Conditional bequests should be clearly defined in the will.

In modern usage, the terms “bequest” and “legacy” are often used interchangeably to refer to gifts left in a will. However, traditionally, “bequest” refers to personal property (movable assets), while “legacy” can refer to both personal property and monetary gifts.

Yes, you can change a bequest after making your will. This can be done by creating a codicil, which is an amendment to the existing will, or by drafting a new will. Both the codicil and the new will must be executed according to legal requirements to be valid.

If you want to leave a bequest to a charity:

  • Specify the charity’s full legal name, address, and registered charity number in your will.
  • Describe the bequest clearly, whether it is a fixed amount of money, a percentage of the residuary estate, or specific assets.
  • Inform the charity of your intentions, if possible, so they are aware and can provide any necessary information or assistance.
  • Consult with a solicitor to ensure the bequest is correctly drafted and meets all legal requirements.

This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 11th July 2024.

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