What is a Leg­atee?

A Notebook on a coffee table and fireplace lit on the background
Catrin, UK Solicitor
17/04/2024 ● 4 minutes
Un­der­stand­ing the re­spons­ib­il­it­ies and rights of a leg­atee is es­sen­tial in estate plan­ning. Whet­h­er you're draft­ing a will or have been named as a leg­atee, this guide will help you nav­ig­ate the pro­cess ef­fect­ively.

The mean­ing of a leg­atee is someone who is spe­cific­ally chosen in a will to re­ceive par­tic­u­lar items, such as jew­ellery, a car, or a fixed amount of money.

In this art­icle, we’ll ex­plore the role of a leg­atee - someone des­ig­nated in a will to re­ceive spe­cif­ic assets or sums of money upon the test­ator's death. We'll cover the types of legacies, ex­ecut­or re­spons­ib­il­it­ies, and the op­tions avail­able to leg­atees, in­clud­ing the right to refuse a legacy.

Create Your Own Will in 10 Minutes

The Role of a Leg­atee

Leg­atee is dif­fer­ent from gen­er­al be­ne­fi­ciar­ies under a will, who re­ceive whatever is left of the estate after all spe­cif­ic gifts have been made.

By defin­i­tion, being named a leg­atee in a will is both a big honour and also a re­spons­ib­il­ity.

Whet­h­er you're think­ing about who to name as leg­atees in your own will or you've been named one yourself, it's im­port­ant to know about the dif­fer­ent types of legacies, what re­spons­ib­il­it­ies come with it, and even how you can say no to a legacy if you need to.

Know­ing all this helps you make smart choices to make sure your or your loved one’s final wishes are fol­lowed just the way they wanted.

Types of Legacies

Since there are dif­fer­ent types of legacy that can be left under a will, there are also dif­fer­ent defin­i­tions of the leg­atee, and these depend on whet­h­er the in­di­vidual is a leg­atee of a spe­cif­ic, demon­strat­ive, gen­er­al or re­sid­uary estate.

  • Spe­cif­ic Legacies: These are par­tic­u­lar items named in the will, like a family paint­ing or a piece of real estate.
  • Demon­strat­ive Legacies: These are spe­cif­ic amoun­ts of money that must be paid from a par­tic­u­lar source, like a cer­tain bank ac­count.
  • Gen­er­al Legacies: These are un­spe­cified amoun­ts of money that come from the gen­er­al assets of the estate.
  • Re­sid­uary Legacies: After all debts, bills, and other legacies are paid, whatever re­mains of the estate is dis­trib­uted to these re­sid­uary leg­atees.

Un­der­stand­ing the rights and re­spons­ib­il­it­ies of leg­atees is cru­cial for ef­fect­ive estate plan­ning. So, whet­h­er you are making a will or have been named as a leg­atee, this guide will help you un­der­stand how to manage these de­cisions.

Ex­ecut­or Re­spons­ib­il­it­ies

Ex­ecut­ors play a cru­cial role in making sure that everything in a will is car­ried out cor­rectly ac­cording to the will's pro­vi­sions and ap­plic­able laws.

Ex­ecut­or's key re­spons­ib­il­it­ies in­clude:

  • Dis­trib­uting Assets: En­sur­ing that each leg­atee re­ceives ex­actly what the will spe­cifies, whet­h­er it's a par­tic­u­lar item or a sum of money.
  • Valu­ing Assets: Some­times, ex­ecut­ors need to figure out how much cer­tain items are worth. This is es­pe­cially im­port­ant for items like houses or stocks that can change in value.
  • Hand­ling Com­plex Issues: Ex­ecut­ors might also face chal­lenges like not having enough money in the estate to pay all debts and legacies, it’s im­port­ant for them to  handle estate debts and legacies to pre­vent dis­putes among be­ne­fi­ciar­ies. This is called estate in­solv­ency. They also need to know what to do if a leg­atee doesn't want to accept a legacy, which can in­volve legal pro­cesses to resolve the prob­lem.

Rights and Pro­tec­tions for a Leg­atee

A leg­atee has cer­tain rights that help pro­tect their in­terests during the pro­cess of set­tling an estate.

If leg­atees think that the ex­ecut­or is not fol­low­ing the will's in­struc­tions prop­erly, they can chal­lenge those de­cisions in court if they be­lieve the will’s in­struc­tions are not being fol­lowed. This helps make sure the will is re­spec­ted and fol­lowed cor­rectly.

Ad­di­tion­ally, spe­cif­ic gifts to leg­atees are typ­ic­ally pro­tec­ted from the de­ceased person's debts. This means that if there are debts, they are paid from the rest of the estate before any re­main­ing gifts are given out, help­ing to pro­tect the gifts as much as pos­sible.

Re­fus­ing a Legacy: If a Leg­atee De­clines?

Some­times, a leg­atee may choose to refuse a legacy left to them in a will. This action is leg­ally known as "dis­claim­ing" a legacy. Here’s what hap­pens and why someone might choose to do this:

Why Might a Leg­atee Refuse from a Legacy?

  • Tax Burdens: Ac­cept­ing cer­tain legacies can have tax im­plic­a­tions.
  • Per­son­al Be­liefs: Someone might turn down an in­her­it­ance for per­son­al or eth­ical reas­ons, es­pe­cially if it in­volves business deal­ings or prop­er­ties they do not agree with.
  • Fin­an­cial Li­ab­il­it­ies: Some assets, like prop­erty with debts or high upkeep costs, might not be fin­an­cially wise to in­her­it.

⚠️ Do note that re­fus­ing a legacy is an ir­re­vers­ible de­cision that may affect the estate's dis­tri­bu­tion dy­nam­ics. The pro­cess of re­fus­ing a legacy should comply with legal re­quire­ments, in­clud­ing timely sub­mis­sion of the dis­claimer.

How to Refuse a Legacy?

  • Writ­ten Dis­claimer: A leg­atee must form­ally reject the legacy by writ­ing a dis­claimer, usu­ally given to the ex­ecut­or or through a court.
  • Timing is Key: The dis­claimer must be made before the leg­atee takes or uses any­thing from the legacy, making sure they haven’t ac­cepted it in any way.
  • Ir­re­vers­ible De­cision: Once a dis­claimer is sub­mit­ted, it cannot be taken back. It's a per­man­ent de­cision that af­fects how the estate is di­vided.

Con­sequences of Re­fus­ing a Legacy

  • Re­dis­tri­bu­tion of Assets: If a legacy is re­fused, it usu­ally goes to the next be­ne­fi­ciary listed in the will or, if there isn’t one, it fol­lows the standard rules for someone who dies without a will.
  • Estate Dy­nam­ics: Re­fus­ing a legacy can change the dy­nam­ics of an estate’s dis­tri­bu­tion, po­ten­tially in­creas­ing the shares of other be­ne­fi­ciar­ies or chan­ging the ex­ecut­or’s plans for dis­trib­uting the estate.

Miss­ing a Will?

Get your legal mat­ters sorted in 15 minutes.

Personal legal assistance at your fingertips
Coming soon
Lasting power of attorney
Living will
Contact us
Lemuntie 3-5 A 00510 Helsinki 2901500-3
Aatos Legal Technology ltd Company Number 15368786 1 Chapel Street, Warwick, United Kingdom, CV34 4HL
© Aatos Legal Technology 2024