Legal look-alikes: legado vs. legacy

Many bilingual sources equate legado with legacy, a translation that may sometimes be inappropriate. In the Spanish law of succession (Derecho de sucesiones) legado denotes a testamentary gift of either personal property (legado de bienes muebles) or real property (legado de bienes inmuebles) to someone other than the decedent’s testamentary heirs (herederos testamentarios). But legado cannot always be equated with legacy, because in English a distinction has traditionally been made between a testamentary gift of personal property (properly called a “legacy” or “bequest”) and a testamentary gift of real property (technically called a “devise”). Thus, legado de bienes muebles may be rendered as “legacy” (or “bequest”), but legado de bienes inmuebles is more properly called a “devise.” Likewise, legatario (the beneficiary of a legado) may denote either a “legatee” or “devisee,” depending on whether the beneficiary in question receives a testamentary gift of personal property (“legacy” or “bequest”) or real property (“devise”).

To further complicate matters, perhaps it should also be noted that in modern usage, particularly in the US, this technical distinction between a “legacy” or “bequest” (a testamentary gift of personal property) and a “devise” (a testamentary gift of real property) is often disregarded, and the terms may be mixed or interchanged. In fact, the Uniform Probate Code (adopted in 18 states) has eliminated the distinction altogether. “Legacy,” “legatee,” “bequest” and the verb “bequeath” are not used, while “devise” has been adopted to encompass testamentary gifts of both real and personal property. In that regard, in the Code when used as a noun “devise” denotes a “testamentary disposition of real or personal property” while as a verb “to devise” means “to dispose of real or personal property by will.”

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