What are Bequests?

What Are Bequests? Your Guide to Estate Planning

When it comes to estate planning, bequests play a significant role in determining how your assets are distributed after your passing. A bequest is a gift of personal property that is made as part of a will or trust. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the intricacies of bequests, the different types, and their importance in estate planning.

What Are Bequests? A Vital Component of Estate Planning

When you consider estate planning, one of the crucial elements that often comes to mind is bequests. So, what exactly are bequests? Bequests are the heartfelt gifts of personal property, financial assets, or real estate that you choose to bestow upon individuals, charities, institutions, or organizations, as a part of your will or trust. These gifts can encompass a wide range of assets, ensuring that you have the flexibility to provide for those you care about most and contribute to the causes that matter to you.

Making a Bequest: The Power of Clear Instructions

To incorporate a bequest into your estate plan, you need to leave behind clear and concise written instructions, usually within your last will and testament. However, it’s essential to recognize that some assets, like those transferred through life insurance policies, retirement accounts, or trusts, are often handled outside the probate court process.

Types of Bequests:

Bequests come in various forms, each designed to cater to your specific wishes and the nature of the assets you wish to leave behind. Let’s explore the different types of bequests that can help you shape your legacy:

  1. General Bequests: Flexibility and Financial Support

General Bequests involve specifying a fixed dollar amount to be granted to an individual, organization, or entity, rather than designating a particular asset or property. This type of bequest offers flexibility, ensuring that the beneficiary receives the intended monetary gift. It’s a practical way to provide financial support to those you hold dear.

  1. Specific Bequests: Passing Down Cherished Possessions

A Specific Bequest allows you to specify a particular asset or property that you wish to bequeath to a specific individual or entity. This could range from sentimental items like jewelry to significant assets like real estate. It’s an opportunity to pass on cherished possessions and ensure they continue to hold value for your loved ones.

  1. Residuary Bequests: Distributing What Remains

Residuary Bequests typically involve a percentage of what remains in your estate after all other debts, expenses, and specific bequests have been settled. This type of bequest allows you to distribute the remaining portion of your assets among your chosen beneficiaries, ensuring a fair and equitable distribution.

  1. Contingency Bequests: Adding an Extra Layer of Control

A Contingency Bequest is made on the condition that a specific event occurs. For instance, you might specify that a beneficiary will only receive the bequest if a primary beneficiary predeceases you. This type of bequest adds an extra layer of control to your estate planning, ensuring your assets are used as you intended.

  1. Percentage Bequests: Proportional Distribution

Percentage Bequests involve gifting a certain percentage of your estate to a beneficiary. This can be an effective way to distribute your assets proportionally among your loved ones or organizations of your choice, regardless of the overall value of your estate.

  1. Charitable Bequests: Leaving a Lasting Impact

Charitable Bequests are a type of bequest where you leave a gift to a charitable organization or institution. This generous act can support causes that are close to your heart, leaving a lasting impact on the community or the world. It’s an opportunity to create a legacy of philanthropy that endures beyond your lifetime.

How to Set Up a Bequest in a Will?

Setting up a bequest in your will is a significant step in ensuring your assets are distributed according to your wishes. Let’s break down the process into simple steps:

  1. Identify Your Assets: Start by determining which assets you wish to pass on. These can include cash, bank accounts, real estate, personal belongings, and more.
  2. Choose the Bequest Type: There are various types of bequests to select from, each serving different purposes. Your options include general bequests (for fixed amounts), specific bequests (for particular assets), residuary bequests (a percentage of what remains), contingency bequests (conditional), percentage bequests (a proportion of your estate), and charitable bequests (for charitable organizations).
  3. Name Your Beneficiaries: Clearly specify the recipients of your bequests. This can be individuals, charities, institutions, or organizations. Be as precise as possible to avoid any ambiguity.
  4. Draft Your Will: It’s advisable to create or update your will to include these instructions. Seek the guidance of an estate lawyer to ensure your will is legally valid and accurately reflects your intentions.
  5. Regularly Update Your Will: Life changes, and so should your will. As your family grows and your circumstances evolve, revisit your will to make necessary adjustments.

Remember, for the smooth transfer of assets, your will may need validation by a probate court. However, assets conveyed through life insurance policies, retirement accounts, or trusts typically bypass the probate process, ensuring a more streamlined transfer to your beneficiaries.

The Role of an Estate Lawyer:

Estate planning, which includes making bequests, can be a complex process. An estate lawyer can provide invaluable assistance in ensuring that your wishes are carried out as intended. They can help you navigate the legal requirements, draft a clear and legally binding will, and ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes. Their expertise can help you avoid potential pitfalls and ensure a smooth transition of assets.


Bequests are a fundamental component of estate planning, allowing you to distribute your assets, support loved ones, and contribute to causes that matter to you. By understanding the various types of bequests and seeking professional guidance when necessary, you can create a comprehensive estate plan that reflects your values and secures your legacy. Whether it’s a specific bequest, a charitable bequest, or any other type, making bequests can have a profound impact on the lives of those who receive them. It’s never too early to start planning for the future and ensuring that your legacy endures. Start shaping your legacy today with the power of bequests.

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