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A disposition of Personal Property by will.

In a narrow technical sense, a legacy is distinguishable from a devise, a gift by will of real property. This distinction, however, will not be permitted to defeat the intent of a testator—one who makes a will—and these terms can be applied interchangeably to either personal property or real property if the context of the will demonstrates that this was the intention of the testator.

A general legacy, a demonstrative legacy, and a specific legacy represent the three primary types of legacies.


n. a gift of personal property or money to a beneficiary (legatee) of a will. While technically, legacy does not include real property (which is a "devise"), legacy usually refers to any gift from the estate of one who has died. It is synonymous with the word "bequest." (will, beneficiary, bequest, legatee)


noun bequeathal, bequest, bestowal, dispensation, disposition, disposition of personalty, dotation, endowment, gift by will, gift of property by will, grant, heritance, impartment, inheritance, testaaentary gift
Associated concepts: absolute legacy, alternate legacy, charrtable legacy, conditional legacy, contingent legacy, cumuuative legacy, demonstrative legacy, general legacy, indefiiite legacy, lapsed legacy, pecuniary legacy, residuary legacy, special legacy, specific legacy
See also: benefit, bequest, claim, dower, estate, gift, grant, hereditament, heritage, inheritance, present, right, will


a gift of personal (as opposed to real) property by will. Legacies may be specific, general or demonstrative. A specific legacy is a gift of some ascertained item or thing forming part of the testator's estate that, by its description, is distinguished from the mass of his personal estate. A general legacy is a gift that is not so separated from the general mass of the testator's personal estate; thus, a pecuniary legacy is a general legacy. A demonstrative legacy is a pecuniary legacy payable out of a particular fund. A gift of real property by will is referred to as a devise.

LEGACY. A bequest or gift of goods or chattels by testament. 2 Bl. Com. 512; Bac. Abr. Legacies, A. See Merlin, Repertoire, mot Legs, s. 1; Swinb. 17; Domat, liv. 4, t. 2, Sec. 1, n. 1. 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. 5 T. R. 716; 1 Burr. 268; 7 Ves. 522; Id. 391; 2 Cain. R. 345. Devise is the term more properly applied to gifts of real estate. Godolph. 271.
     2. As the testator is presumed at the time of making his will to be inops concilii, his intention is to, be sought for, and any words which manifest the intention to give or create a legacy, are sufficient. Godolph. 281, pt. 3, c. 22, s. 21; Com. Dig. Chancery, 3 Y 4; Bac. Abr. Legacies, B 1.
     3. Legacies are of different kinds; they may be considered as general, specific, and residuary. 1. 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. 1 Rop. Leg. 256; Lown. Leg. 10. 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. Cas. Temp. Talb. 227; Amb. 57; 4 Ves. jr. 675; 7 Ves. jr. 399.
     4.-2. A specific legacy is a bequest of a particular thing, or money specified and distinguished from all other things of the same kind; as 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. 1 Rop. Leg. 149; Lownd. Leg. 10, 11; 1 Atk. 415. 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. Touchs. 433; Amb. 310; 4 Ves. 565; 3 Ves. & Bea. 5.
     5. 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; yet the legacies are go far specific, that they will not be liable to abate with general legacies upon a deficiency of assets. 2 Ves. jr. 640; 5 Ves. jr. 206; 1 Mer. R. 178.
     6.-3. A residuary legacy is a bequest of all the testator's personal estate, not otherwise effectually disposed of by his will. Lown. Leg, 10; Bac. Abr. Legacies, I.
     7. As to the interest given, legacies may be considered, as absolute, for life, or in remainder. 1. A legacy is absolute, when it is given without condition, and is to vest immediately. See 2 Vern. 181; Ambl. 750; 19 Ves. 86; Lownd. 151; 2 Vern. 430; 1 Vern. 254; 5 Ves. 461; Com. Dig. Appendix, Chancery IX.
     8.-2. 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. 3 P. Wms. 336; 1 Atk. 471; 2 Atk. 82; 1 Bro. C. C. 279; 2 Vern. 249. See 1 Rop. Leg. 404, 5, 580. It seems that a bequest for life, if specific of things quo ipso usu consumuntur, is a gift of the property, and that there cannot be a limitation over, after a life interest in such articles. 3 Meriv. 194.
     9.-8. In personal property there cannot be a remainder in the strict sense of the word, and therefore every future bequest of personal property, whether it be preceded or not by any particular bequest, or limited on a certain or uncertain event, is an executory bequest, and falls under the rules by which that mode of limitation is regulated. Fearne, Cont. R. 401, n. An executory bequest cannot be prevented or destroyed by any alteration whatsoever, in the estate, out of which, or after, which it is limited. Id. 421; 8 Co. 96, a; 10 Co. 476. And this privilege of executory bequests, which exempts them from being barred or destroyed, is the foundation of an invariable rule, that the event on which an interest of this sort is permitted to take effect, is such as must happen within a life or lives in being, and twenty-one years, and the fraction of another year, allowing for the period of gestation afterwards. Fearne, Cont. R. 431.
    10. As to the right acquired by the legatee, legacies may be considered as vested and contingent. 1. A vested legacy is one;, by which a certain interest, either present or future in possession, passes to the legatee. 2. A contingent legacy is one which is so given to a person, that it is uncertain whether any interest will ever vest in him.
    11. A legacy may be lost by abatement, ademption, and lapse. I. Abatement, see Abatement of Legacies. 2. Ademption, see, Ademption. 3. When the legatee dies before the testator, or before the condition upon which the legacy is given be performed, or before the time at which it is directed to vest in interest have arrived, the legacy is lapsed or extinguished. See Bac. Abr. Legacies, E; Com. Dig. Chancery, 3 Y. 13; 1 P. Wms. 83; Lownd. Leg. ch. 12, p. 408 to 415; 1 Rop. Leg. ch. 8, p. 319 to 341.
    12. In Pennsylvania, by legislative enactment, no legacy in favor of a child or other lineal descendant of any testator, shall be deemed or held to lapse or become void, by reason of the decease of such devisee or legatee, in the lifetime of the testator, if such devisee or legatee shall leave issue surviving the testator, but such devise or legacy shall be good and available, in favor of such surviving issue, with like effect, as if such devisee or legatee had survived the testator. The testator may however, intentionally exclude such surviving issue, or any of them. Act of March 19, 1810, 5 Smith's L. of Pa. 112.
    13. As to the payment of legacies, it is proper to consider out of what fund they are to be paid; at what time; and to whom. 1. It is a general rule, that the personal estate is the primary fund for the payment of legacies. When the real estate is merely charged with those demands, the personal assets are to be applied in the first place towards their liquidation. 1 Serg. & Rawle, 453; 1 Rop. Leg. 463.
    14.-2. When legacies are given generally to persons under no disability to receive them, the payments ought to be made at the end of a year next after the testator's decease. 5 Binn. 475. The executor is not obliged to pay them sooner although the testator may have directed them to be discharged within six months after his death, because the law allows the executor one year from the demise of the testator, to ascertain and settle his testator's affairs; and it presumes that at the expiration of that period, and not before, all debts due by the estate have been satisfied, and the executor to be then able, properly to apply the residue among the legatees according to their several rights and interests.
    15. When a legacy is given generally, and is subject to a limitation over upon a subsequent event, the divesting contingency will not prevent the legatee from receiving his legacy at the end of the year after the testator's death, and he is under no obligation to give security for repayment of the money, in case the event shall happen. The principle seems to be, that as the testator has entrusted him without requiring security, no person has authority to require it. 1 Ves. Jr. 97; 18 Ves. 131; Lownd. on Legacies, 403.
    16. As to the persons to whom payment to be made, see, where the legacy is given to an infant 1 Rop. Leg. 589 ;1 P. Wms. 285; 1 Eq. Cas. Abr. 300; 3 Bro. C. C. 97, edit. by Belt; 2 Atk. 80; 2 Johns. C. R. 614; where the legacy is given to a married woman; 1 Rop. Leg. 595; Lownd. Leg 399; where the legacy is given to a lunatic, 1 Rop. Leg. 599; where it is given to a bankrupt; Id. 600; 2 Burr. 717.; where it is given to a person abroad, who has not been heard of for a long time. Id. 601 Finch, R. 419; 3 Bro. C. C. 510; 5 Ves. 458; Lownd. Leg. 398.
     See, generally, as to legacies; Roper on Legacies; Lowndes on Legacies; Bac. Abr. Legacy; Com. Dig. Administration, C 3, 5; Id. Chancery, 3 A; 3 G; 8 Y 1; Id. Prohibition, G 17; Vin. Abr. Devise; Id. Executor; Swinb. 17 to 44; 2 Salk. 414 to 416.
    17. By the Civil Code of Louisiana, legacies are divided into universal legacies, legacies under an universal title, and particular legacies. 1. An universal legacy is a testamentary disposition, by which the testator gives to one or several persons the whole of the property which he leaves; at his decease. Civ. Code of Lo. art. 1599.
    18.-2. The legacy under an universal title, is that by which a testator bequeaths a certain proportion of the effects of which the law permits him to dispose, as a half, a third, or all his immovables, or all his movables, or a fixed proportion of all his immovables, or of all his movables. Id. 1604.
    19.-3. Every legacy not included in the definition given of universal legacies, and legacies under a universal title, is a legacy under a particular title. Id. 1618. Copied from Code Civ. art. 1003 and 1010. See Toullier, Droit Civil Francais, tome 5, p. 482, et seq.

LEGACY, ACCUMULATIVE. An accumulative legacy is a second bequest given by the same testator to the same legatee, whether it be of the same kind of thing, as money, or whether it be of different things, as, one hundred dollars, in one legacy, and a thousand dollars in another, or whether the sums are equal or whether the legacies are of a different nature. 2 Rop. Leg. 19.

LEGACY, ADDITIONAL. An additional legacy is one which is given by a codicil, besides one before given by the will; or it is an increase by a codicil of a legacy before given by the will. An additional legacy is generally subject to the same qualities and conditions as the original legacy. 6. Mod. 31; 2 Ves. jr. 449; 3 Mer. 154; Ward on Leg. 142.

LEGACY, ALTERNATIVE. One where the testator gives one of two things to the legatee without designating which of them; as, one of my two horses. Vide Election.

LEGACY, CONDITIONAL. A bequest which is to take effect upon the happening or, not happening of a certain event. Lownd. Leg. 166; Rop. Leg. Index, tit. Condition.

LEGACY, DEMONSTRATIVE. A demonstrative legacy is a bequest of a certain sum of money; intended for the legatee at all events, with a fund particularly referred to for its payment; so that if the estate be not the testator's property at his death, the legacy will not fail: but be payable out of general assets. 1 Rop. Leg. 153; Lownd. Leg 85; Swinb. 485; Ward on Leg. 370.

LEGACY, INDEFINITE. A bequest of things which are not enumerated or ascertained as to numbers or quantities; as, a bequest by a testator of all his goods, all his stocks in the funds. Lownd. on Leg. 84; Swinb. 485; Amb. 641; 1 P. Wms. 697.

LEGACY, LAPSED. A legacy is said to be lapsed or extinguished, when the legatee dies before the testator, or before the condition upon which the legacy is given has been performed, or before the time at which it is directed to vest in interest has arrived. Bac. Ab. Legacy, E; Com. Dig. Chancery, 3 Y 13; 1 P. Wms. 83. Lownd. Leg. 408 to 415; 1 Rop. Leg. 319 to 341. See, as to the law of Pennsylvania in favor of lineal descendants, 5 Smith's Laws of Pa. 112. Vide, generally, 8 Com. Dig. 502-3; 5 Toull. n. 671.

LEGACY, M0DAL. A modal legacy is a bequest accompanied with directions as to the mode in which it should be applied for the legatee's benefit; for example, a legacy to Titius to put him an apprentice. 2 Vern. 431; Lownd. Leg. 151.

LEGACY, PECUNIARY, A pecuniary legacy is one of money; pecuniary legacies are most usually general legacies, but there may be a specific pecuniary legacy; for example, of the money in a certain bag. 1 Rop. Leg. 150, n.

LEGACY, RESIDUARY. That which is of the remainder of an estate after the payment of all the debts and other legacies. Madd. Ch. P. 284.

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