specific bequests

While leaving a specific gift sounds simple, a lot can change if you no longer own the item, replace it, or worse yet, the beneficiary predeceases you. A specific bequest is a gift made under a will of specifically identifiable property. For example, “I leave my 1964 Mustang to my daughter” is a specific bequest. If the item is owned by the estate and the beneficiary is alive, the item will pass to that person. But it may not always be that easy.

If you no longer own the specific item when you die, the bequest adeems and the beneficiary doesn’t inherit. But if your bequest says: “ I leave my 1964 Mustang or any car I own at my death to my daughter,” you’ve covered your bases. If you’ve sold the 1964 Mustang, your daughter can still receive a car you own at your death.

It’s important to be clear on which asset if you own more than one. For example, if you own a vacation home in Florida, your bequest must say “my vacation home in Florida.” If it just says “my home,” and you own two, there can be problems in how the will is to be interpreted and what your true intention was.

If your beneficiary dies before you do, the gift lapses. Let’s say Aunt Ann specifically leaves her diamond heart necklace to her cousin Carol. If Carol is not alive, she doesn’t inherit the necklace. It becomes part of the residuary estate, which is what’s left over after creditors are paid and specific bequests are made.

If the gift is made to Carol, per stirpes, it means the necklace will be given to Carol or her bloodline. In our example, if Aunt Ann leaves the necklace to Carol, per stirpes, and Carol has a child, Carol’s child will get the gift if Carol is not alive. The gift won’t lapse.

Keep in mind that funeral expenses, taxes and even lawyers’ bills must be paid before beneficiaries receive anything. If estate assets must be sold to pay debts, assets in the residuary estate are sold first. If you have a specific wish about who gets some special property, make sure your estate planning documents are drafted to get the result you want. A specific bequest can also be made in trust, if you use trusts in your estate planning.

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