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Specific Bequests & Your Estate Plan

What is a specific bequest and how does it relate to your estate plan? Our guide covers everything you need to know.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

When someone is thinking about what to include in their Will, occasionally, they may make one large General Bequest, leaving all of their belongings—their property, money, and all assets—to their spouse or next of kin. But many times, someone will have plans for particular items they have cherished over the years.

When you have specific plans for items in your Estate and whom they should go to, you will make Specific Bequests in your Will.

In this guide, we'll explore examples of Specific Bequests and how to name them in your Will. With Trust & Will, making a Will online has never been easier. It takes less than 10 minutes to get started.

  1. What is a Specific Bequest?

  2. Tips for Making Specific Bequests in Your Will

  3. Naming Beneficiaries for Specific Bequests

What is a Specific Bequest?

A Specific Bequest is a gift of a specific item listed in a Will, easily identified from all other listed assets.

Due to the distinct nature of this kind of gift, if an item is no longer part of a person's Estate at the time of their death, no other item or sum of money can be substituted in its place.

A common reason why people make Specific Bequests in their Will is to pass down property or assets to their families and loved ones. This can include the home you own, a business, or, of course, precious family heirlooms.

If you wore your mother's wedding dress at your wedding or wear the ring your grandfather gave your grandmother, you will undoubtedly want to pass those items down to your children and grandchildren. You may not get to see them get married, but you know how quickly that day will come, and you can still be a part of their special days.

When passing down your most prized possessions to those who will look to them and think of you, you can be part of your loved one's lives even after you're gone. And you can start planning for those future milestones now with your Will.

Tips for Making Specific Bequests in Your Will

The last thing anyone wants when designating what will happen to the items they have worked for and cherished through the years is for there to be any confusion about their intentions when they're no longer here to speak for themselves. Be heeding these three simple tips when making Specific Bequests in your Will, you can rest easy knowing that your wishes will carry out just as you intended.

Be professional 

A Will is a legal document, and it should read like one. Some people assume that you can have your wishes met by simply jotting down who should receive what upon your demise and calling it a day. While a handwritten Will, or a Holographic Will, is better than no Will at all, they are typically best left for emergencies only. Not to mention, Holographic Wills are not valid in all 50 states.

When writing your Will, clear language is vital. When your Will goes through Probate Court, the process all Wills go through to settle a Decedent's Estate, a Probate Court Judge will need to determine your true wishes. To do that, they will only have your own words (via your Will) and the testimonies of your loved ones if any questions arise.

When making Specific Bequests, you should be, well, specific. Use someone's full legal name when making your Bequests. There is no need to mention your relation to this person, which could easily confuse the Probate process.

Using clear, professional language to state the items in your Estate and to whom you wish to leave them will help your Estate go through Probate Court quickly and without putting undue stress—emotional or financial—on your loved ones. 

Be consistent

Just as you want to be specific in your Bequests, you also want to be consistent. When you name someone as a Beneficiary in your Will, use their full legal name and, if you need to mention them again later, keep using the same name throughout your document.

For example, if you intend to bequeath your car to your sister, Maggie Smith, make sure your Will reads, "I hereby bequeath my car, a 2007 Chevrolet HHR, to Maggie Smith." If you need to mention your sister again further in your document, you shouldn't revert to simply referring to her as your sister. That could confuse a Probate Court Judge. Instead, be consistent and use only her full legal name throughout your Will.

Be practical

Just because something means a great deal to you does not mean that it will mean the same to everyone. Truly consider to whom you are bequeathing your precious assets and how they may be received.

While you may have been a voracious reader and collected many books, maybe even some hard-to-find, out-of-print classics, you may not want to leave those valuable treasures to the nephew who hasn't cracked a book since high school. In addition to just not appreciating them as much as a fellow book-lover would, this particular Beneficiary may underestimate the value of what they have inherited.

You know the value of what you have, but that doesn't mean everyone will. Take the example of passing down books that have become collector's items. To someone who doesn't know any better, it may look like they have inherited a pile of books they won't read and don't need. They may even try to sell them and severely undercut their value because they didn't know what they had.

Naming Beneficiaries for Specific Bequests

When naming Beneficiaries for Specific Bequests, it's important to be professional, consistent, and practical—whether you're naming your spouse, children, or family friends as Beneficiaries in your Will.

You may also wish to leave a specific item to charity or a non-profit organization in your Will. You might have an antique desk that a historical society will appreciate or a signed letter from someone prominent in your area's local history. When bequeathing specific items to charitable organizations, you might want to reach out to them directly to find out if they are interested in inheriting your assets (remember when we covered practicality in naming Beneficiaries?). They may also point you in the direction of an organization that can use your items if they can't.