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The language of the law. Part Latin, part Anglo-Saxon, all confusing.

So… it’s GRIP week again.

The Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) has two sessions, one in June and, now, this week in July.

Last Will and TestamentAnd you know what that means, right?

Yeah, The Legal Genealogist is on the road again.

Rick Sayre and I are co-coordinating the Law School for Genealogists course where a classroom full of eager students will hear about federal and state courts, resources like the U.S. Serial Set, tips for understanding records of our female ancestors, and so much more.

But even though time, this week, will be at a premium, there are still questions to be answered, including the one Charmaine Riley Holley hit me with last night just before dinner:

Just what’s the difference, in a will, between the statement that something is bequeathed and the statement that something is devised?

In the will Charmaine was reading, the deceased was leaving things to a number of relatives and the terminology used wasn’t the same for all. To some, the will used the language “I bequeath and devise” and to others the language was just “I bequeath.”

Why, Charmaine wanted to know, would there be a difference?

Great question, because — even though today we basically use both words any time we give anything to anyone in a will and often say “I give, bequeath and devise” (just to cover all the bases) — historically, there really was a difference between the two terms.

To bequeath something meant to “give personal property by will to another.”1

To devise something meant to make a “gift of real property by will.”2

And the difference between personal and real property, of course, is that personal property is “property of a personal or movable nature, as opposed to property of a local or immovable character, (such as land or houses), the latter being called ‘real property.’”3

So the decedent in Charmaine’s case bequeathed his personal property, and he devised his real property — his land.


SOURCES

  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 129, “bequeath.”
  2. Ibid., 364, “devise.”
  3. Ibid., 893, “personal property.”
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