Can you bequeath a house to a stranger in Ontario?
When speaking of the gifts left in a Will, people often hear the terms “legacy”, “bequest” and (less frequently) “devise” thrown around interchangeably. But what specifically do these terms refer to?
A “bequest”, which can be used interchangeably with “legacy”, refers to testamentary gifts of personal property. While both terms are used, the Succession Law Reform Act uses the term “bequest” in referring to these types of gifts. There are three types of bequests: general bequests, specific bequests, and demonstrative bequests.
General bequests refer to gifts that are to be provided out of the estate generally. It does not refer to any particular thing. Thus a gift of “$10,000.00 to my friend F” is a general bequest. The money is to be raised from any of the general assets of the testator.
Specific bequests refer to gifts of particular property or which are to be funded by particular assets. For example, gifts of “my car” or “the cash held in bank account X” are both specific bequests as they refer to particular property which the recipient is to receive. Where the asset is no longer in the possession of the testator at the time of death, the gift will fail.
A demonstrative bequest is a hybrid between general and specific bequests where a gift of money is left with the intention that it is to be funded primarily out of certain assets. But where the assets are insufficient to meet the gift, the gift is to then be funded out of the general estate. A gift of “$10,000.00 to be paid first from the proceeds of sale of my car” would be a demonstrative bequest.
Unlike a “bequest”, a “devise” refers to a testamentary gift of real property. Society and the law have long distinguished between real property and personal property. This can be seen, for example, in the traditional availability of specific performance as a remedy for breaches of contracts involving real property. In such situations, real property was accepted as something unique enough to require specific performance, rather than mere monetary damages.
The primacy of real property over personal property can equally be seen in estates law in situations where there are insufficient assets in the estate to satisfy all debts, bequests, and devises. In such a situation, the principles of abatement provide the following order of abatement: general bequests, demonstrative bequests, specific bequests, and finally devises.
To learn more about the principle of abatement, see this recent blog.
With the continuing distinction between real property and personal property, the difference between devises and bequests remains important. Which brings us back to the title of this blog; Can you bequeath your home to a stranger in Ontario? Nope, that would be a devise.
Thanks for reading!