Legal Definition of Legacy

A gift of money or of personal property, title to which is passed under the terms of a will.4 min read

A gift of money or of personal property, title to which is passed under the terms of a will.

A bequest or gift of goods or chattels by testament. This word, though properly applicable to bequests of personal estate only, has nevertheless been extended to property not technically within its import, in order to effectuate the intention of the testator, so as to include real property and annuities. Devise is the term more properly applied to gifts of real estate.

The testator's intention, if uncertain, is to be sought, and any words which manifest the intention to give or create a legacy are sufficient.

Three Kinds of Legacy

Legacies are of different kinds - general, specific and residuary.

General Legacy

A legacy is general, when it is so given as not to amount to a bequest of a specific part of a testator's personal estate; as of a sum of money generally or out of the testator's personal estate or the like. A general legacy is relative to the testator's death; it is a bequest of such a sum or such a thing at that time or a direction to the executors, if such a thing be not in the testator's possession at that time, to procure it for the legatee.

Specific Legacy

A specific legacy is a bequest of a particular thing or money specified and distinguished from all other things of the same kind; e.g., of a particular horse, a particular piece of plate, a particular term of years and the like, which would vest immediately with the assent of the executor. A specific legacy has relation to the time of making the will; it is a bequest of some particular thing in the testator's possession at that time, if such a thing should be in the testator's possession at the time of his death. If it should not be in the testator's possession, the legatee has no claim. There are legacies of quantity in the nature of specific legacies, as of so much money with reference to a particular fund for their payment.

This kind of legacy is so far general and differs so much in effect from a specific one, that if the funds be called in or fail, the legatees will not be deprived of their legacies, but be permitted to receive them out of the general assets.

Residuary Legacy

A residuary legacy is a bequest of all the testator's personal estate, not otherwise effectually disposed of by his will.

Interest Given In Legacies

As to the interest given, legacies may be considered as; absolute for life, or in remainder. A legacy is absolute when it is given without condition and is to vest immediately.

A legacy for life is sometimes given with an executory limitation after the death of the tenant for life to another person; in this case, the tenant for life is entitled to the possession of the legacy, but when it is of specific article's, the first legatee must sign and deliver to the second, an inventory of the chattels expressing that they are in his custody for life only and that afterwards they are to be delivered and remain to the use and benefit of the second legatee. A bequest for life, if of specific things, is a gift of the property.