General Legacy

General Legacy
General Legacy
Full Overview Of General Legacy

In the intricate world of probate law, the term “general legacy” holds particular significance. A general legacy refers to a gift of property or assets left by a testator to a beneficiary in a will that is not sourced from a specific asset but rather from the general estate. At DLS Solicitors, we clarify the concept of a general legacy, its implications, the legal considerations involved, and the steps necessary to ensure proper administration. This comprehensive overview will provide valuable insights into the intricacies of general legacies and their role in estate planning and probate.

Defining General Legacy

A general legacy is a testamentary gift that does not specify the source from which it should be satisfied within the estate. Unlike specific legacies, which pertain to particular items or assets, a general legacy might include sums of money, stocks, bonds, or other fungible assets that can be satisfied from the general pool of the testator’s estate. For instance, a will might state, “I leave £10,000 to my niece,” without specifying which bank account or investment should be used to fulfil this bequest.

General legacies are distinct from specific and demonstrative legacies. While specific legacies pertain to particular items (e.g., a piece of jewellery or a specific property) and demonstrative legacies are monetary gifts sourced from a specified asset or fund, general legacies are more flexible, drawing from the general estate.

Administering a general legacy involves several key legal considerations to ensure that the testator’s wishes are honoured, and the estate is managed appropriately. The following sections outline the critical aspects of handling general legacies:

  1. Identifying General Legacies in the Will: The first step in administering a general legacy is to identify and distinguish it from other types of legacies in the will. This requires a thorough reading and understanding of the will’s terms and the testator’s intentions.
  2. Valuation of the Estate: To satisfy general legacies, the estate must be accurately valued. This includes identifying all assets and liabilities to determine the net estate available for distribution. Proper valuation ensures that general legacies are distributed fairly and proportionately.
  3. Priority of Payment: General legacies are usually paid after specific legacies but before residuary legacies. Specific legacies are fulfilled from designated assets, and any remaining estate value is used to satisfy general legacies. Only after these have been paid can the residuary beneficiaries receive their share.
  4. Adequacy of Assets: The estate must have sufficient liquid assets to satisfy general legacies. If the estate lacks adequate funds, the executor may need to liquidate assets to meet the general legacies. This process requires careful consideration to avoid disadvantaging other beneficiaries or violating the testator’s wishes.
  5. Abatement: In cases where the estate’s assets are insufficient to satisfy all general legacies, abatement occurs. Abatement is the process of reducing legacies proportionally to ensure fairness among beneficiaries. Executors must handle abatement delicately, balancing the interests of all parties involved.
  6. Tax Considerations: General legacies may be subject to inheritance tax, depending on the estate’s value and the relationship between the testator and the beneficiaries. Executors must consider tax implications and ensure compliance with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) regulations.

Several legal precedents provide guidance on the administration of general legacies

Notable cases include:

  1. Re King’s Will Trusts (1964): This case highlighted the principles of abatement and priority of payment in relation to general legacies. The court emphasised that general legacies should be satisfied from the residuary estate after specific legacies have been fulfilled.
  2. Re Sanderson’s Trust (1857): This case established that where a general legacy is given for a specific purpose (e.g., education or maintenance), it should still be treated as a general legacy, with the purpose influencing its application rather than its nature.
  3. Re Gordon’s Will Trusts (1974): This case addressed the insufficiency of assets to meet general legacies, illustrating the abatement process and the executor’s duty to balance the interests of all beneficiaries.

Practical Steps for Executors

Executors play a crucial role in the administration of general legacies. The following steps provide a practical guide for executors to ensure proper management and distribution of general legacies:

  1. Review the Will Thoroughly: Executors should carefully review the will to identify all general legacies and understand the testator’s intentions. Clear identification helps in accurate administration.
  2. Inventory and Valuation: Create a comprehensive inventory of the estate’s assets and liabilities. Accurate valuation is essential for determining the estate’s net value and ensuring sufficient funds for general legacies.
  3. Communication with Beneficiaries: Maintain transparent and regular communication with beneficiaries. Keeping beneficiaries informed about the estate’s status and the timeline for distribution helps manage expectations and fosters trust.
  4. Liquidation of Assets: If necessary, liquidate assets to generate sufficient funds to satisfy general legacies. Executors should seek professional advice to ensure the best possible outcomes for the estate and beneficiaries.
  5. Compliance with Tax Obligations: Ensure compliance with inheritance tax regulations and other relevant tax obligations. Executors may need to file appropriate tax returns and pay any taxes due before distributing legacies.
  6. Handling Abatement: In cases of insufficiency, apply the abatement principles proportionally. Executors should document the process clearly and provide explanations to beneficiaries to maintain transparency.
  7. Seek Legal Advice: Executors should seek legal advice when faced with complex issues or uncertainties. Legal professionals can provide guidance on interpreting the will, managing disputes, and ensuring compliance with legal requirements.

Disputes and Resolution

Disputes can arise during the administration of general legacies, often stemming from misunderstandings, perceived unfairness, or conflicts among beneficiaries. Executors should be prepared to address and resolve disputes effectively:

  1. Mediation and Negotiation: Encourage mediation and negotiation to resolve disputes amicably. Mediation allows parties to reach mutually acceptable solutions without resorting to litigation.
  2. Legal Intervention: If mediation fails, seek legal intervention. Courts can provide clarity on the interpretation of the will and enforce the proper administration of general legacies.
  3. Clear Documentation: Maintain clear and detailed documentation of all actions taken during the administration process. This documentation can serve as evidence in dispute resolution and demonstrate the executor’s diligence and transparency.
  4. Professional Mediation Services: Consider engaging professional mediation services to facilitate dispute resolution. Mediators with experience in probate matters can help navigate complex issues and find common ground.


The concept of a general legacy is a fundamental aspect of probate law, requiring careful consideration and meticulous administration. At DLS Solicitors, we understand the complexities of managing general legacies and are committed to providing expert guidance and support to executors and beneficiaries.

Administering a general legacy involves balancing legal knowledge, practical skills, and interpersonal communication. Executors must navigate the intricacies of estate valuation, priority of payment, tax compliance, and potential disputes to fulfil their duties effectively. By adhering to best practices and seeking professional advice when necessary, executors can ensure that general legacies are administered in accordance with the testator’s wishes and legal requirements.

Ultimately, the proper administration of general legacies contributes to an estate’s fair and efficient distribution, honouring the testator’s intentions and providing for the beneficiaries. At DLS Solicitors, we support our clients through every step of the probate process, ensuring that general legacies are handled with the utmost care and professionalism. Whether you are an executor seeking guidance or a beneficiary with questions about your entitlements, our team is here to provide the expertise and assistance you need to navigate the complexities of probate law.

In conclusion, the administration of general legacies is a critical component of estate management that demands a thorough understanding of legal principles and practical procedures. By approaching the process with diligence, transparency, and professionalism, executors can fulfil their responsibilities effectively and uphold the deceased’s legacy. At DLS Solicitors, we proudly offer our clients the knowledge and support necessary to achieve these goals and ensure the proper administration of general legacies.

General Legacy FAQ'S

A general legacy is a gift left in a will that is not specific to any particular asset or sum of money. It typically involves a gift of money or property that is to be distributed from the general assets of the estate.

A general legacy is a non-specific gift that can be satisfied from the general assets of the estate (e.g., a sum of money), whereas a specific legacy refers to a particular item or asset that is specifically identified in the will (e.g., a piece of jewellery or a specific piece of real estate).

No, specific legacies are generally given priority over general legacies. Specific items are distributed first, and general legacies are paid out from the remaining estate.

Yes, a general legacy can be conditional, meaning the beneficiary will receive the gift only if certain conditions specified in the will are met. For example, it may be contingent on the beneficiary reaching a certain age.

If the estate does not have sufficient funds to fulfill all general legacies, they are typically reduced proportionately. This process is known as abatement, where the legacies are scaled down according to the available assets.

Yes, general legacies may bear interest if not paid within the executor’s year, which is one year from the date of death. The interest rate and conditions for interest payments are typically set by law or the terms of the will.

Yes, the testator can alter or revoke a general legacy at any time before their death by updating their will. Changes must be properly documented to be legally effective.

If a beneficiary of a general legacy predeceases the testator, the legacy generally lapses (fails) unless the will provides for an alternative beneficiary or if it falls under statutory provisions such as the Wills Act 1837, which might allow the legacy to pass to the deceased beneficiary’s descendants.

General legacies themselves are not subject to inheritance tax, but the estate may be. The estate’s inheritance tax liability is usually settled before any legacies are distributed to beneficiaries.

If the will does not specify details, general legacies are distributed from the estate’s general assets by the executor. The timing of the distribution is usually within the executor’s year unless otherwise directed by the will.


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: 17th July 2024.

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Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

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