Satisfaction of legacies

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Satisfaction of legacies is a common law doctrine that affects the disposition of property under a will. Under the doctrine, any gift that the maker of the will (the testator) gives during his lifetime to a named beneficiary of the will is presumptively treated as a satisfaction of that beneficiary's inheritance. After the death of the testator, the amount of the gift would then be deducted from the amount that the beneficiary would otherwise have received, even if it operates to entirely cancel out the inheritance. The presumption applies only when the gift is made after the will has already been executed.

Many jurisdictions have repealed the satisfaction of legacies doctrine by statute. Even in those jurisdictions, however, a gift may still be treated as a satisfaction of legacy if such an intention is expressed in a written document made close to the time of the gift and signed by either the testator or the beneficiary. Jurisdictions that have enacted such a statute include Virginia.

A similar common law doctrine operates regarding inheritance by intestacy (i.e., without a will); such a gift is then called an advancement. The concepts work similarly, but are independent of one another; jurisdictions that have repealed the doctrine of satisfaction of legacies may still have the traditional doctrine of advancement in place. This may be because the law presumes that a person who was possessed of enough sophistication to make a will would know how to amend that will or otherwise document their desire that the gift be deemed satisfied.