Give, Devise, And Bequeath

Give, Devise, And Bequeath
Give, Devise, And Bequeath
Quick Summary of Give, Devise, And Bequeath

The terms “give, devise, and bequeath” refer to the transfer of property through a will. This is when an individual decides who will receive their belongings after their death. It is similar to creating a list of beneficiaries. In most cases, using the term “give” is sufficient instead of using all three words. A bequest refers to the act of giving property through a will. A charitable bequest involves giving property to a charity. A conditional bequest involves giving property with a specific condition, such as “until she remarries.” A demonstrative bequest involves giving property from a specific source, such as a stock fund. A general bequest involves giving a general benefit, such as money or stocks. A pecuniary bequest involves giving money. A residuary bequest involves giving what remains of the estate after debts and other gifts have been paid. A specific bequest involves giving a specific item, such as a piece of furniture or real estate.

What is the dictionary definition of Give, Devise, And Bequeath?
Dictionary Definition of Give, Devise, And Bequeath

The phrase “give, devise, and bequeath” is commonly used in legal documents to indicate the transfer of property through a will. However, it has been criticised as redundant, and in modern usage, “give” is often sufficient. For instance, a person may write in their will, “I give, devise, and bequeath all the rest, residue, and remainder of my estate to my beloved daughter Sarah.” This means that the person is transferring all of their remaining property to their daughter through their will. Other terms related to bequests include:

  • Bequest: the act of giving property (usually personal property) by will.
  • Charitable bequest: a bequest given to a philanthropic organisation.
  • Conditional bequest: a bequest whose effectiveness or continuation depends on a specific event.
  • Demonstrative bequest: A bequest that must be paid out of a specific source, such as a stock fund.
  • Executory bequest: a bequest of a future, deferred, or contingent interest in personal property.
  • General bequest: a bequest of a general benefit, such as a gift of money or all the testator’s stocks.
  • Pecuniary bequest: a testamentary gift of money; a legacy.
  • Residuary bequest: A bequest of the remainder of the testator’s estate, after the payment of debts, legacies, and specific bequests.
  • Specific bequest: a bequest of a specific or unique item of property, such as real estate or a particular piece of furniture. For example, a person may write in their will, “I leave my antique grandfather clock to my son John as a specific bequest.” This means that the person is leaving a specific item of property, the grandfather clock, to their son through their will.
Full Definition Of Give, Devise, And Bequeath

In the context of wills and estate planning, the terms “give,” “devise,” and “bequeath” hold significant legal meaning. These terms outline how an individual’s property is distributed upon their death. Understanding the distinctions between them is crucial for anyone involved in drafting or interpreting a will, as each term pertains to different types of property and has specific legal implications. This overview aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of these terms within British law, their application, and their significance in estate planning.


The term “give” is generally used in the context of lifetime transfers rather than dispositions upon death. However, in some cases, it can appear in wills, especially in layperson-drafted documents. When used in a will, “give” usually implies a straightforward transfer of property, similar to the term “bequeath.” It is not a technical term of art in the same way that “devise” and “bequeath” are, and its usage can sometimes lead to ambiguity.

In estate planning, “give” might appear in the context of a will to indicate a transfer of a particular item or sum of money to a beneficiary. For instance, a testator might write, “I give £1,000 to my niece, Jane.” In this sense, it functions similarly to “bequeath” but is less precise and could potentially be interpreted in various ways depending on the context and other terms of the will.


“Devise” is a term specifically used to refer to the distribution of real property in a will. Real property includes land and any structures attached to it, such as houses or buildings. When a testator “devises” real property, they are instructing that specific real estate be transferred to a named beneficiary upon their death.

Legal Framework

Under the Wills Act 1837, the term “devise” is used to describe the disposition of real estate. The Act provides the statutory foundation for wills in England and Wales, and its provisions govern how real property can be transferred through a will. Section 3 of the Wills Act 1837 explicitly uses the term “devise” in reference to real property.

Types of Devises

There are several types of devises that a testator might use:

  • Specific Devise: A specific devise is a gift of a particular piece of real property. For example, “I devise my house at 123 Main Street to my son, John.”
  • General Devise: A general devise might not specify a particular piece of property but rather a general type of property or a share in the estate. For example, “I devise all my real property to be equally divided among my children.”
  • Residuary Devise: A residuary devise deals with the remaining real property after all specific and general devises have been distributed. For example, “I devise the residue of my real property to my daughter, Emily.”

Importance of Precision

The precision in using “devise” is paramount because it specifically relates to real property. Misusing the term can lead to legal complications and challenges during the probate process. For instance, if a will inaccurately uses “devise” to refer to personal property, it could cause confusion and potential disputes among beneficiaries.


“Bequeath” is the term used to refer to the distribution of personal property in a will. Personal property encompasses all property that is not classified as real property, such as money, stocks, jewellery, vehicles, and other movable assets.

Legal Framework

Similar to “devise,” the term “bequeath” is grounded in the Wills Act 1837. The Act does not explicitly define “bequeath,” but its usage in legal contexts has solidified its meaning as the distribution of personal property. Section 24 of the Wills Act 1837 is often referenced in discussions about the construction and effect of wills, indirectly supporting the usage of “bequeath.”

Types of Bequests

There are several types of bequests that a testator might use:

  • Specific Bequest: A specific bequest is a gift of a particular item or sum of money. For example, “I bequeath my gold watch to my grandson, Alex.”
  • General Bequest: A general bequest does not specify a particular item but rather a general sum or type of property. For example, “I bequeath £5,000 to my friend, Sarah.”
  • Pecuniary Bequest: This is a type of general bequest specifically referring to money. For example, “I bequeath £10,000 to my niece, Clara.”
  • Residuary Bequest: A residuary bequest deals with the remaining personal property after all specific and general bequests have been distributed. For example, “I bequeath the residue of my personal property to my wife, Mary.”

Importance of Clarity

Clarity in using “bequeath” is crucial to avoid disputes and ensure the testator’s wishes are accurately followed. Vague or imprecise language can lead to legal challenges, particularly if the will is contested. Executors and probate courts rely on the clear articulation of the testator’s intentions to distribute the estate efficiently and fairly.

Comparative Analysis

The terms “devise” and “bequeath” serve to differentiate between real and personal property in the context of wills. This distinction is important because the legal processes and implications for transferring these types of property can differ significantly.

Real Property vs Personal Property

  • Real Property: The transfer of real property (devise) involves legal considerations such as title deeds, land registration, and potential mortgage obligations. The process may require formal conveyancing and adherence to property laws.
  • Personal Property: The transfer of personal property (bequeath) typically involves less complex legal procedures. Items can be physically handed over, and monetary assets can be transferred through banking processes.

Legal Interpretation

Courts interpret “devise” and “bequeath” based on established legal principles and precedents. Misinterpretation or misuse of these terms in a will can lead to challenges during probate. Therefore, it is advisable for testators to seek legal advice when drafting a will to ensure that the correct terminology is used and that their intentions are clearly expressed.

Practical Considerations in Drafting Wills

When drafting a will, it is essential to use the correct terminology to reflect the testator’s wishes accurately. Here are some practical considerations:

  • Legal Advice: Seeking legal advice from a solicitor who specialises in wills and probate can help ensure that the will is drafted correctly and in accordance with legal standards.
  • Clarity and Precision: Using clear and precise language is crucial. Ambiguities can lead to disputes and complications during the probate process.
  • Updating Wills: It is important to update a will regularly to reflect changes in circumstances, such as acquiring new property, changes in relationships, or the birth of children.
  • Witnesses: The Wills Act 1837 requires that a will be signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign the document. This helps ensure the will’s validity.
  • Executor’s Role: Appointing a reliable executor is essential for ensuring that the terms of the will are carried out accurately. The executor should be someone trustworthy and capable of managing the estate’s affairs.

Case Law and Precedents

British case law provides numerous examples that highlight the importance of using the correct terminology in wills. Courts have often had to interpret the intentions of the testator based on the language used in the will.

Notable Cases

  • Re Hamilton [1895] 2 Ch. 370: This case emphasised the importance of the testator’s intentions and how the court interprets terms used in a will. The court looked beyond the literal meaning to ascertain the testator’s intent.
  • Re Adams and Kensington Vestry [1884] 27 Ch D 394: This case involved the interpretation of terms in a will and highlighted the necessity of clarity and precision to avoid misinterpretation and ensure the testator’s wishes are honoured.
  • Re Estate of Smith [2012] EWCA Civ 267: This more recent case underscored the complications that can arise from ambiguous language in a will. The court’s role in interpreting the testator’s intent was critical in resolving the dispute among beneficiaries.


Understanding the terms “give,” “devise,” and “bequeath” is fundamental in the context of wills and estate planning. Each term has distinct legal implications and is used to refer to different types of property. “Devise” pertains to real property, while “bequeath” refers to personal property. Using these terms correctly ensures that the testator’s wishes are clearly articulated and reduces the risk of legal disputes during the probate process.

Drafting a will with precision and clarity and seeking legal advice when necessary are essential steps in effective estate planning. By doing so, individuals can ensure that their property is distributed according to their wishes and that their beneficiaries are provided for as intended.

Give, Devise, And Bequeath FAQ'S

Giving refers to transferring property during one’s lifetime, while devising and bequeathing refer to transferring property through a will after death. Devise is specifically used for real estate, while bequeath is used for personal property.

Generally, yes. However, there may be certain legal restrictions or limitations, such as spousal rights or laws regarding inheritance for minor children.

No, you can also use other legal instruments, like trusts or beneficiary designations, to transfer property. However, a will is a common and effective way to ensure your wishes are carried out.

In most cases, once property has been legally transferred, it cannot be revoked or changed without the recipient’s consent. It is important to carefully consider your decisions before making them final.

No, you can only transfer property that you currently own. However, you can include provisions in your will to cover future acquisitions or specify how certain property should be distributed.

Yes, you can choose to leave property to charitable organisations or other entities in your will. It is advisable to consult with an attorney to ensure your intentions are properly documented and legally enforceable.

While pets cannot legally own property, you can make arrangements for their care and well-being by leaving instructions and funds to a trusted individual or organisation in your will.

Yes, you have the freedom to leave property to anyone you choose, regardless of their familial relationship to you. However, it is important to consider potential legal challenges or disputes that may arise from such decisions.

Yes, you can leave property to a minor, but it may be subject to certain legal restrictions. In such cases, it is advisable to establish a trust or designate a guardian to manage the property until the minor reaches a certain age.

The tax implications of giving, devising, or bequeathing property can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the value of the property. It is recommended to consult with a tax professional or attorney to understand the potential tax consequences and explore any available exemptions or deductions.

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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: 6th June 2024.

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