A lasting Legacy.

There are two types of legacies commonly found in Wills – Pecuniary and Specific and the person receiving the legacy is called a legatee. As is often the case with Wills, which are still legislated by an Act from 1837, these phrases aren’t particularly useful to non-lawyers – but hopefully this article will assist. 

Pecuniary Legacies

Generally these are relatively straightforward and are simple gifts of money. They don’t tend to create any issues. However, as with all of the articles in this series I focus on what can go wrong.

Testators need to ensure that that their estate has the funds the sums being left.  An individual may have a valuable estate but the majority of the value may be in their home. If they had intended the property to pass in a certain way i.e. for their 3 children to keep the property in the family, then they may not have anticipated the property having to be sold to pay the legacies they left to Oxfam and the local village hall.

Legacies are binding on the executor and need to be honoured. In the above, the 3 children may be very unhappy with the idea of ‘losing the house’ – in such a case they could club together, keep the property and pay the legacies from their own pockets – but the outcome is the same – the legacies need to be paid.

Another issue to bear in mind is whether to name the legatees or refer to them in a group.  A testator who has only recently welcomed their first grandchild may be advised to avoid naming the child in their Will – as this could easily result in those grandchildren who hadn’t been born yet being left out.  Similarly, we see more and more blended families – where a person may have 5 grandchildren but is only biologically related to 3 of them.  They would be wise to consider the wording of any legacies they may make.

The above are two examples of matters that need to be considered when gifting money in a Will – it is not a complete list.

Specific Legacies

This is a gift of property from the estate.

They are often found in Wills, especially as people are often keen to ensure that those they leave behind know that they were thought of.

Descriptions of the items need to be detailed and accurate. Testators would be sensible to avoid phrases like ‘my diamond ring’ because they may have more than one diamond ring at the time of their death. Testators would be sensible not to underestimate the offence that can be caused when gifts go wrong – even low value items can result in solicitor’s letters and long running disputes.

It would also be sensible to avoid broad groups of items, such as ‘my artwork’.  Whilst it may seem obvious to the testator, upon their death it may require interpretation – which is not a good thing in a Will.  

Another point to bear in mind is to ensure that the item remains in the estate at the time of death. A good example is when people leave a car as a legacy. If a Will leaves ‘my Range Rover Evoque to my son James’  but at the time of death they no longer own that car then the gift has a deemed and James would not get a car. Whilst this is unlikely to be an issue for people leaving very personal items like pocket watches and engagement rings it is certainly something to bear in mind.

A Will can have specific legacies and a chattels clause. The specific legacies, subject to the above issues, are treated as valid and are simply taken out of the ‘pot’ of personal possessions being dealt with under the chattel clause.

If you want to leave people money or gifts the best thing you can do is get professional legal advice.

If you wish to discuss your Will needs please get in touch with our Private Wealth Team. If you would like to discuss any problems regarding a Will please contact our Trusts, Wills and Probate Disputes team.

The contents of this article are intended as guidance for readers. It can be no substitute for specific advice. Consequently we cannot accept responsibility for this information, errors or matters affected by subsequent changes in the law, or the content of any website referred to in this article. © Mundays LLP.


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