In estate law, and with a Last Will and Testament in particular, there are lots of specific terms for broad concepts that can be confusing to someone who isn’t well-versed in legal terminology.

From understanding what intestate means, to knowing what probate is, or even the what the word estate means, seeing these terms while creating your document can sometimes make you feel uncertain about whether you are completing your document properly.

In this post, we help you better understand your Last Will and Testament by tackling the meaning of the term bequeath, how it differs from the term devise, and whether either these terms are still used in estate law.  

The Definition of Bequest

Bequest is a term that generally applies to legacy giving, and to bequeath something means to leave or gift an item by means of a Last Will and Testament. A bequest can be given to another person, group, company, or organization, who would then be called a beneficiary to the Last Will.

Is Bequest Only Used in a Last Will?

The term bequest generally applies to gifting by means of Last Will, but it can also be found in other, related documents, such as:

  • Pour-Over Will: this is a special type of Last Will used by individuals with a Living Trust that transfers any remaining property a person may have into their Living Trust when they pass away so that the property is distributed according to the Living Trust
  • Codicil: this is an addendum to a Last Will, meaning it is a legal document that allows individuals to add, change, or remove specific clauses to their existing Last Will, such as clauses or comments that may have been missed or forgotten or clauses that reflect a change in mind or circumstance; this document can also be used to change beneficiaries, guardians, or executors, if it is required

Bequest vs Devise in a Last Will

The terms bequest and devise are both used to describe gifting in a Last Will, but their meanings differ slightly: where bequest is often used to describe any type of gift given to a beneficiary after a person passes away, devise is only used when the gift is real property. Real property typically refers to real estate, such as land and any permanent structures (like a house) on top of it.

In some instances, the word used to describe who the gift is given to can also differ: beneficiary is often used for a bequest whereas devisee can be used to describe someone being gifted a devise.

Are These Terms Still Used in Estate Law?

The term bequest is still widely used in estate law and can often be found sprinkled across the pages of a Last Will in both the headings and the clauses.

The term, devise, on the other hand, is not as common and is sometimes described as “old-fashioned”. You may see it pop up a handful of times in your Last Will, but you likely won’t see it used much more than that.

Completing Your Estate Plan

A Last Will and Testament is an essential component of an estate plan. Bequeath is a term used in a Last Will that means to gift something to another after you pass away.

Some of the terms to do with estates and estate planning can seem complex and confusing. Learning the meaning of these terms before creating your Last Will and Testament will help you feel more confident while completing your documents and preparing your estate plan.

Posted by Ashley Camarneiro

Ashley is an experienced researcher and writer with an interest in real estate, contract, and family law. Before starting at LawDepot in the summer of 2017, Ashley worked as a legal assistant in the corporate and family law sector.