Specific Bequests in Wills

October 17, 2012
By Dessen, Moses & Rossitto

Most of us prepare a Will to dispose of our money and house after we die. But sometimes a gift of a particular item is of great importance, for those of us who deep down believe that tangible items are often more valuable than money. Others of us want to leave a person or charity a specific dollar amount. A specific bequest, with a clear description of the item or amount being given and to whom, is the way to accomplish this. You can then dispose of the rest of your estate (called "the residuary estate") however you wish.

What to do with the jewelry?

When I am interviewing a married couple, the initial question I ask the wife is "Who gets your jewelry - the bimbette your husband marries after your death or your daughters?" 738111_string_of_pearls_2.jpgI guess you know the answer. Wives are really not at all interested in the next wife wearing her jewelry. It often seems that the less jewelry there is, the more important it is that the next wife never wear the first wife's jewelry. Interestingly, if there are no daughters, the wife usually chooses not to leave her jewelry to her sons - after all, the sons might marry their own bimbettes some day. At least the wife knows that her husband has good taste - he married her, didn't he?

Who gets a family heirloom?

If you received a special gift or inherited items from your now deceased relatives, you may want those items to "stay in the family" and not go to your spouse at your death. Often these items are not valuable in monetary terms but are incredibly 766643_rocking_chair.jpgprecious in sentimental value. For example, my long deceased paternal grandfather personally sanded and caned a rocking chair for me. I probably could not get more than $50 if I sold it - but it is worth millions to me because I know he did the work on it by his own hand, over the course of many months. As much as I love my husband, there is no way that any woman he marries after I die will ever get her hands on that rocker so she can toss it out as trash.

How about money?

Grandparents often want to leave a sum of money to their grandchildren - usually for college. If you want to do this, specify that the gift only is made at the death of both youstock-photo-19530492-car-parts.jpg and your spouse - otherwise, the grandchild will get money at the death of the first to die, and then the same amount at the death of the second of you to die. Also, make sure that it is held in trust for the grandchild, so that a trustee doles it out carefully, considering the grandchild's needs. Otherwise, the result may be like that of one of my clients - after her death, an IRA went directly to her grandchild who inherited $70,000 at age 20. Before he reached 21, he had blown all the money on what most of us would consider junk! It is hard to imagine that this young man "had" to make these purchases instead of saving the money - or even saving part of it - but that is precisely what he did.

If you want to leave money to charity, remember that your crystal ball is always cloudy - you don't know how much money you will have at your death, so be careful when deciding the amount you leave. For example, suppose at the time you make your Will you have $1 million, and you make a specific bequest of $100,000 to ABC Charity and leave the rest of your money to your children. You stay healthy and live another 20 years so at your death your estate is valued at only $125,000. By the time the kids pay off your debts, there may be no money left for them to inherit. An alternate way that may work better is to leave a percent of the residuary estate - like 5% - to charity and the rest to the children.

An alternative to a specific bequest

Instead of making a specific bequest of money in your Will, you may simply designate a person as your beneficiary on a bank accounts, life insurance policy, IRA and the like. At your death, those people will inherit the money. In effect, making this kind of designation is the same as a specific bequest in a Will - the named person will inherit the account. Remember though that named living beneficiaries take precedence over wills - so if you name your daughter as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, you can't override that in a Will by saying that the life insurance goes to your son.

There are always many good reasons to make specific bequests of money and items - so consult with your estate planning attorney to make sure your wishes are carried out as you planned.

Bonnie Smith Moses
E-Mail Bonnie Smith Moses
215-496-2902
Hope BosniakSam Rossittto
E-Mail Hope Bosniak E-Mail Sam Rossitto
215-496-2914215-242-3830