Ademption and the Case of the Missing Bequest

Posted on: 27 January 2017

By now, everyone knows that they need to make a will. It provides valuable guidance for your loved ones when it comes to the distribution of your property and when dealing with the debts you leave behind. Usually, people make out a will and then forget it. Wills need to updated every few years to reflect changes in property, people who you no longer wish to inherit that property, and more. This little task often falls by the wayside, however, and when it does, a little known issue called "ademption" has the potential to occur. Read on to learn what happens when a bequest goes missing. 

Property that no longer exists

Consider the following scenario: you die and leave a valuable painting to your niece; say it's a Rembrandt. You would really like your niece to inherit this Rembrandt because she has always admired that painting in particular among all of your other artwork, so you make sure to let your estate attorney know to include a specific bequest in your will that awards her with it upon your death. Unfortunately, at some point after the will is made, your home is robbed and the Rembrandt is among the items stolen. It has yet to be recovered, and there is little chance of it turning up now many years later. What happens to the bequest? This is where the term ademption comes in; the bequest of the Rembrandt is said to be adeemed. In other words the bequest cannot be honored due to its disappearance, and your niece is out of luck on that inheritance.

Items that are not eligible to be adeemed

Not every bequest that is no longer available can be adeemed. Consider this: according to your will, you intend to leave a sum of money, say $5,000 from a particular savings account, to your best friend John. Upon your death, however, the named savings account has a zero balance. Cash bequests cannot be adeemed, so that very sum of money must be provided to John through another means. In most instances, the executor (or personal representative) would be responsible for finding the funds available to provide to John, even if property must be sold to accommodate the bequest. For example, a vehicle may be sold and the proceeds will go toward the $5,000 owed to John from the estate.

The laws that deal with estates tend to vary by state, so a consultation with a local estate attorney is vital, especially when dealing with ademption provisions. Check out for more information.