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Back to the Basics – What is a Bequest?


When writing a will, many people seek to ensure that certain people in their lives get specific things, such as a family heirloom necklace, property, or an allotted amount of money. The gifting of property or assets to a certain person through the provisions of your will is called a bequest. There are few types of bequests and different situations in which to use them.

(1) Specific Bequest: It is the gifting of a specified property or asset to an identified person or entity, distinguished from the property in the estate. For example, a specific bequest would be gifting your home to your son, or gifting your diamond earrings to your niece. The main issue faced by the estate is when, upon death, the specific gift that is to be given, i.e. the property or the diamond earrings, are no longer owned by the testator. In this situation, the intended beneficiary then gets nothing, because there is nothing to satisfy or substitute from the estate.

(2) General Bequest: A general bequest is what most people think of when they think of gifts in a will. This bequest is a gift that is payable from the assets of the estate. Most commonly seen are provisions gifting a specified amount of money to a certain person, for example, $10,000 to my nephew, or a stock or securities bond. Unlike specific bequests, these type of bequests are not for a specified item, so other assets in the estate may be sold to satisfy the gift if it is not available when distribution comes.

(3) Demonstrative Bequest: A demonstrative bequest is a gift of a specific distribution from a named fund or account. An example of this would be testator gifting 100 shares of his stock in Apple to his sister. Demonstrative bequests can face some of the issues that specific bequests face if the testator does not own the gift at his death. Generally, the estate will handle the issue of distribution like a general bequest and pay out what the intended beneficiary would get if the testator still owned the stock, but would be paid from the general assets.
(4) Residuary Bequest: A residuary bequest generally comes after the giving of specific, general and demonstrative bequests. This type of bequest gifts all or a portion of what is left to certain persons or entities, following bequests and payment of taxes and administration of the estate. These can be pretty general and state the a certain person or entity will get the balance of the estate.

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