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4 Kinds Of Bequests

The standard definition of a bequest is a planned gift that ranges from the simple (money) to the extravagant (a house) that is made through a will. Yet while all bequests share the same definition, they are not all created equal.

Nonprofits received more than $23.41 billion in bequests according to the most recent edition of Giving USA. All of those gifts came in different forms and, as Elizabeth Ziemba, J.D., M.P.H. wrote in her book “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Giving Back,” it’s important for fundraising officers to clearly understand their differences.

Ziemba noted that there are four distinct types of bequests that can be made in a will. All of these can be mixed and matched in the donor’s will, depending on giving goals. The four types are:

  • Pecuniary Bequest: A gift of a fixed or stated sum of money designated in a donor’s will.
  • Specific Bequest: A gift of a designated or specific item in the
    will. The item will most likely be sold by the organization and the
    proceeds would benefit that nonprofit.
  • Residuary Bequest: A gift of all or a portion of the remainder of
    the donor’s assets after all other bequests have been made as well as
    debts and taxes paid.
  • Contingent Bequest: A gift in a will made on the condition of a
    certain event that may or may not happen. A contingent bequest is
    specific and fails if the condition is not made.


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