A bequest is a transfer of personal property that is accomplished through a written will instrument. Transfers of real property are called "devises," whereas transfers of personal property are called "bequests." In a bequest, the creator of the will (the testator) writes out specific instructions as to when the person can obtain the property.

For instance, the testator may have instructions such as, "my niece will receive my leather jacket if she finishes college." Bequests can either be conditional (dependent on the fulfillment of a condition) or executory (dependent on the happening of a future event). Due to the personal nature of bequests, they can sometimes be subject to various types of disputes and challenges.

What are Some Common Bequest Disputes?

Some common types of bequest disputes may include:

  • Disputes between persons who are each claiming that they’re entitled to the same piece of property
  • Disputes regarding the amount of money the beneficiary is entitled to
  • Disputes over which property one person is entitled to
  • Confusion over particular instructions in the will
  • Disputes over the conditions that must be fulfilled in order to receive the property

For instance, a recipient of a bequest might have a dispute involving the requirement that they complete college at a university before they can receive the gift. For instance, they might have questions regarding which type of college is indicated. This highlights the need for bequest provisions to be written very clearly and precisely in the will.

How are Disputes Over Bequests Resolved?

Will contests and other disputes are handled through a probate court proceeding. This can often take some time, as the court needs to review the various property items, documents, and assets that are in dispute. In most cases, the court will stick to the written language that is contained in the will.

However, in some cases, the court may need to rewrite or re-word portions of the will, especially if it doesn’t make sense or if it leads to a distribution that is illogical. Thus, the way that a bequest is finalized may ultimately hinge on the court’s interpretation of all the surrounding factors. In some cases, a damages award might be issued if any disputes have resulted in losses for a party.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Bequest Dispute?

Disputes over bequests can sometimes get very complicated, especially if there are multiple parties involved, or if there is much property being discussed. You may wish to hire an estate lawyer if you have a dispute over a written bequest provisions, or if you have any similar legal questions. Your attorney near you can provide you with the legal representation and advice that is needed to help clarify and resolve the dispute.