What is a Specific Bequest in Estate Planning?

August 21, 2023
Erin Calpin, Esq.

A specific bequest in a will refers to a legal provision in which the testator (the person creating the will) designates a particular item or asset to be given to a specific individual or organization upon their death. For example, a person might include a specific bequest in their will like this: "I bequeath my antique pocket watch to my nephew, John Smith." In this case, the antique pocket watch is the specific item being bequeathed, and John Smith is the named beneficiary who will receive the watch upon the testator's passing.

It's important to note that specific bequests take precedence over general or residuary bequests. General bequests involve leaving a certain amount of money or property without specifying particular assets, while residuary bequests involve designating what is left of the estate after all other specific bequests, debts, taxes, and administrative expenses have been settled.

To ensure that the intent of the specific bequest is carried out accurately, it's crucial for the testator to provide clear and accurate descriptions of the items being bequeathed and to keep the will updated if circumstances change. It's also advisable to work with legal professionals, such as attorneys or estate planners, to ensure that the language and details of the specific bequests are legally sound and enforceable.

What Are Some Common Examples of Specific Bequests?

Specific bequests in wills can encompass a wide range of items or assets. Here are some common examples:

1. Tangible Personal Property: This includes items like jewelry, clothing, electronics, collectibles, and any other tangible possessions of value. For instance, "I bequeath my diamond necklace to my daughter, Emily."

2. Real Property: A testator might specify a particular parcel of real estate to be given to a beneficiary. For example, "I bequeath my vacation home in Lake George, New York to my son, Michael."

3. Artwork: Valuable paintings, sculptures, or other art pieces can be designated as specific bequests of tangible personal property. For instance, "I bequeath my painting 'Starry Night' by Vincent van Gogh to the local art museum."

4. Vehicles: Cars, boats, motorcycles, and other vehicles are also items of tangible personal property that can be bequeathed. For example, "I bequeath my vintage car to my best friend, Sarah."

5. Financial Assets: Financial assets can include stocks, bonds, shares in companies, or specific bank accounts. For instance, "I bequeath my shares of XYZ Corporation to my niece, Lily."

6. Antiques: Valuable antiques, such as furniture, china, or historical artifacts, are other items of tangible personal property that can be designated by specific bequest. For example, "I bequeath my antique grandfather clock to my grandson, James."

7. Pets: Some individuals include specific bequests for their beloved pets, ensuring they are cared for after the testator's passing. For instance, "I bequeath my dog, Max, to my sister, Maria."

8. Collections: Collections of items like stamps, coins, books, or rare items can be bequeathed as items of tangible personal property. For example, "I bequeath my collection of rare first-edition books to the local library."

9. Charitable Gifts: A specific bequest can also involve leaving a specific asset to a specific charity or nonprofit organization. For instance, "I bequeath my savings account at PNC Bank to the Humane Society to support their animal rescue efforts."

10. Digital Assets: In the modern age, digital assets like websites, domain names, or intellectual property rights can also be designated as specific bequests. For example, "I bequeath my personal blog website to my close friend, Alex."

These examples illustrate the diversity of assets that can be specified as specific bequests in a will. It's essential to provide clear and accurate descriptions of the items being bequeathed to avoid confusion and ensure that the intended beneficiaries receive the designated assets.

Why Is It Important To Work With an Estate Planning Attorney If You're Leaving a Specific Bequest?

Working with an estate planning attorney when leaving a specific bequest in a will is of paramount importance to ensure that the process is legally sound, clear, and accurately reflects the testator's wishes. Estate planning attorneys possess the expertise to navigate the complex legal landscape surrounding wills and bequests, which helps minimize the potential for disputes or challenges down the line. These professionals can assist in crafting precise and unambiguous language that leaves no room for misinterpretation, thereby reducing the risk of beneficiaries contesting the will due to unclear terms. Additionally, an attorney can offer insights into tax implications related to the specific bequest, ensuring that the testator's estate is managed in the most tax-efficient manner. Estate laws vary by jurisdiction, and an attorney can provide guidance tailored to the specific legal requirements of the testator's location. Ultimately, involving an estate planning attorney safeguards the testator's intent, provides legal safeguards for beneficiaries, and helps navigate the intricate legal landscape, ensuring that the specific bequest is carried out smoothly and in accordance with the testator's wishes.

If you’re interested in leaving behind a specific bequest to a loved one, get in touch with BMC Estate Planning today! We can help to walk you through the steps and ensure that your needs are met.


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Borenstein, McConnell & Calpin, P.C. is a Wills & Estate Planning law firm serving Central and Northern New Jersey, as well as New York City. We strive not only to give you a great client experience, but to become your trusted adviser for life. To reach Alec, please send an email to alec@bmcestateplanning.com.

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