Define: Residuary Legatee

Residuary Legatee
Residuary Legatee
Quick Summary of Residuary Legatee

A residuary legatee is an individual designated in a will to inherit the remaining assets or property of a deceased person’s estate once all other specific gifts and bequests have been dispensed. Essentially, the residuary legatee receives any leftover items. It’s akin to being the person who receives the final piece of cake after everyone else has had their portion.

What is the dictionary definition of Residuary Legatee?
Dictionary Definition of Residuary Legatee

The residuary legatee is the individual designated to inherit the remaining assets of a deceased person’s estate once all specific bequests and debts have been settled. This person is specifically named in the decedent’s will and is entitled to receive the residue of the estate. To illustrate, if a person’s will states that their sister is to receive their house, their nephew’s car, and $10,000 to their favourite charity, the residuary legatee would inherit all other assets not explicitly mentioned in the will. This could encompass cash, investments, personal belongings, and any other assets not specifically bequeathed to another individual. In a scenario where the will only designates one beneficiary, that individual would also serve as the residuary legatee and inherit the entire estate.

Full Definition Of Residuary Legatee

The concept of a residuary legatee is central to the law of wills and estates. In British law, a residuary legatee is an individual or entity designated to receive the remainder of an estate after all specific gifts, debts, taxes, and other expenses have been paid. This overview aims to provide an in-depth understanding of the role, rights, and responsibilities of a residuary legatee, as well as the legal frameworks that govern their entitlements.

Defining the Residuary Legatee

A residuary legatee, also known as a residual beneficiary, is the person or entity entitled to the residuary estate. The residuary estate is what remains of a deceased person’s estate after the satisfaction of all debts, expenses, and specific bequests. This concept is crucial because it often constitutes the bulk of an estate, especially when specific bequests are minimal.

Key Points:

  • The residuary legatee inherits the remainder of the estate.
  • They only receive their share after all other claims and specific legacies have been fulfilled.
  • The residuary estate can include various assets such as cash, property, investments, and personal items.

Legal Framework and Requirements

The Will and Its Components

A will is a legal document that expresses a person’s wishes regarding the distribution of their property after death. For a residuary legatee to be validly appointed, the will must clearly identify them and outline the distribution of the residuary estate.

Key Elements of a Will:

  • Testator: The person making the will.
  • Executors: Individuals appointed to administer the estate.
  • Specific Bequests: Individual gifts of property or sums of money.
  • Residuary Clause: A provision that disposes of the remainder of the estate.

The Residuary Clause

The residuary clause is a critical part of the will. It specifies how the remaining estate, after specific bequests and expenses, is to be distributed. This clause can name one or multiple residuary legatees and can include instructions for the division of the residuary estate.

Example of a Residuary Clause: “I give the residue of my estate to my son, John Doe, and my daughter, Jane Doe, in equal shares.”

Rights and Responsibilities of the Residuary Legatee


The residuary legatee has several rights under British law, ensuring they receive their entitled portion of the estate.

Rights Include:

  • Entitlement to Residue: The legatee is entitled to the residuary estate after all debts, taxes, and specific legacies have been settled.
  • Information Access: They have the right to be informed about the estate’s administration and to receive accounts detailing the estate’s assets and liabilities.
  • Legal Recourse: If the executor fails to distribute the residuary estate appropriately, the legatee can seek legal recourse.


While primarily a beneficiary, a residuary legatee also has certain responsibilities, particularly if they are also appointed as an executor.

Responsibilities May Include:

  • Cooperation with Executors: Assisting and cooperating with the executors in the estate administration.
  • Tax Obligations: Ensuring any tax liabilities on their inheritance are settled.
  • Compliance with Will Provisions: Adhering to any conditions or terms specified in the will.

Interaction with Executors and Other Beneficiaries

Role of Executors

Executors play a pivotal role in managing the estate and ensuring the residuary legatee receives their share. Their duties include gathering the estate’s assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining assets as per the will.

Executor’s Duties:

  • Administration: Efficiently managing the estate’s affairs.
  • Communication: Keeping beneficiaries informed about the process.
  • Distribution: Ensuring the proper distribution of assets according to the will.

Relationship with Other Beneficiaries

Residuary legatees often have to interact with other beneficiaries who are entitled to specific bequests. Clear communication and understanding of each party’s rights can help prevent conflicts and ensure a smooth administration process.

Key Considerations:

  • Priority of Specific Bequests: Specific bequests are settled before the residuary estate is distributed.
  • Transparency: Openness about the estate’s status helps maintain good relations among beneficiaries.
  • Conflict Resolution: Legal mechanisms are available to resolve disputes between residuary legatees and other beneficiaries.

Legal Issues and Disputes

Disputes Over the Will

Disputes can arise regarding the interpretation of the will, the validity of its terms, or the actions of the executors. Common issues include claims of undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity, or improper execution of the will.

Resolution Mechanisms:

  • Mediation: An alternative dispute resolution method.
  • Litigation: Taking the dispute to court.
  • Probate Court: A specialized court dealing with wills and estates.

Executor Misconduct

If an executor mismanages the estate or fails to comply with the will’s terms, residuary legatees can take legal action to protect their interests.

Actions Include:

  • Removal of Executor: Seeking court intervention to remove the executor.
  • Claim for Damages: Filing a claim for any losses incurred due to the executor’s actions.
  • Court Orders: Requesting specific actions or decisions from the court.

Tax Implications

Inheritance Tax

Inheritance tax (IHT) is a significant consideration for residuary legatees. The estate’s value determines the IHT, which the executors must pay before distributing the assets.

Key Points:

  • Tax Thresholds: The nil-rate band and any applicable reliefs or exemptions.
  • Executor’s Role: Executors are responsible for calculating and paying IHT.
  • Residuary Legatee’s Share: The net residuary estate, after tax, is what the legatee receives.

Capital Gains Tax

Residuary legatees may also face capital gains tax (CGT) on the assets they inherit, particularly if those assets increase in value between the time of inheritance and their eventual sale.


  • Base Cost: The value of the asset at the date of the testator’s death.
  • CGT Allowances: Annual exemptions and reliefs available.
  • Reporting and Payment: Timely reporting and payment of CGT liabilities.

Variations and Intestate Succession

Variations to the Will

A deed of variation allows beneficiaries, including residuary legatees, to alter the distribution of the estate after the testator’s death, provided all affected parties agree.


  • Tax Planning: Mitigating tax liabilities.
  • Family Arrangements: Adjusting distributions to reflect current family needs.
  • Charitable Donations: Redirecting some or all of the estate to charitable causes.

Intestate Succession

If a person dies without a valid will, the rules of intestacy determine the distribution of their estate. The residuary estate in intestate cases is distributed according to a statutory hierarchy.

Hierarchy Overview:

  • Spouse or Civil Partner: Usually inherits the bulk of the estate.
  • Children: Entitled to a share if no surviving spouse or after the spouse’s share.
  • Other Relatives: In the absence of a spouse and children, other relatives may inherit.

Practical Considerations for Residuary Legatees

Reviewing the Will

Residuary legatees should carefully review the will to understand their entitlements and any specific conditions attached to their inheritance.


  • Seek Legal Advice: Consulting a solicitor for a thorough understanding.
  • Verify Validity: Ensuring the will is legally valid and properly executed.
  • Understand Provisions: Knowing all terms and conditions affecting their share.

Managing the Inheritance

Once the estate is distributed, residuary legatees must manage their inheritance effectively, considering both legal and financial implications.


  • Financial Planning: Consulting with financial advisors to manage and invest the inheritance wisely.
  • Tax Planning: Ensuring compliance with tax obligations and optimizing tax efficiency.
  • Asset Management: Properly managing any physical or financial assets received.


The role of a residuary legatee is pivotal in the context of estate distribution under British law. Understanding the legal framework, rights, responsibilities, and practical considerations involved is essential for anyone named as a residuary legatee. By navigating the complexities of wills, taxes, and potential disputes with a clear understanding of their legal standing, residuary legatees can effectively manage their inheritance and fulfill the intentions of the deceased.

Residuary Legatee FAQ'S

A residuary legatee is a person or entity named in a will to receive any remaining assets or property after specific bequests and debts have been settled.

Unlike other beneficiaries who receive specific gifts or amounts of money, a residuary legatee receives whatever is left in the estate after all other distributions have been made.

Yes, a residuary legatee can be a minor. However, their inheritance may be held in trust until they reach the age of majority or a specified age mentioned in the will.

Yes, a residuary legatee can be changed after the will is created. This can be done through a codicil, which is a legal document that amends or adds to the original will.

If a residuary legatee predeceases the testator (the person who made the will), their share of the estate will typically pass to the alternate residuary legatee named in the will. If no alternate residuary legatee is named, the assets may be distributed according to the laws of intestacy.

Yes, a residuary legatee can refuse their inheritance. This is known as disclaiming or renouncing the inheritance. In such cases, the assets will be distributed according to the terms of the will or the laws of intestacy.

Yes, a residuary legatee can challenge the validity of the will if they believe it was not properly executed, the testator lacked testamentary capacity, or there was undue influence or fraud involved in its creation.

The timing of when a residuary legatee receives their inheritance depends on various factors, such as the time required to settle the estate, pay off debts, and distribute specific bequests. It may take several months or even years before the residuary legatee receives their share.

Yes, a residuary legatee can be removed from the will if the testator creates a new will or codicil that specifically revokes their previous designation as a residuary legatee.

No, a residuary legatee is generally not personally responsible for the debts of the estate. The debts are typically paid from the assets of the estate before any distributions are made to the residuary legatee.

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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: 10th June 2024.

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