The term legatee refers to any person or entity that receives an inheritance from a will. This would include anyone from long, lost relatives, to a charitable foundation — essentially anyone, or any entity, to whom the person making the will chose to leave his assets. To explore this concept, consider the following legatee definition.

Definition of Legatee




  1. A person to whom a legacy or gift is bequeathed, or handed down after death.


1670-1680       Latin   lēgāt(us)

What is a Legatee

A legatee is any person or entity who receives a gift – whether money, an object, or other benefit – under the terms of a person’s will. There is, technically, a difference between gifts of real property and gifts of personal property. Someone who receives real property from a will is referred to as a “divisee,” and someone who receives personal property from a will is a “legatee.” The more correct generic term for anyone who receives any gift pursuant to the terms of a will is “beneficiary.”

Difference Between an Heir and a Legatee

Some people dealing with issues of someone’s estate use the terms “heir,” and “legatee” interchangeably. In fact, the two are quite different from one another.


A legatee is any person or entity who receives a gift or inheritance from a will. A legatee need not have any relationship with the person who has bequeathed something to him or her in a will. This term simply refers to any person, or entity – such as a company or charitable foundation – that receives a gift from the will.


An heir is someone who inherits someone’s estate because he or she was related to the deceased person. This might be through a specific gift listed in the deceased person’s will, or – in the even he or she did not leave a will – it might be received the inheritance through the legal probate process. People considered to be heirs are blood relatives, including:

  • Spouse
  • Children, both biological and adopted
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Nieces and nephews
  • Aunts and uncles, by blood relation
  • Cousins
  • Grandparents

Probate laws – those laws governing estates – vary by state. The order in which heirs might inherit someone’s estate, in the absence of a will, might be different. For instance, in some states, a person’s spouse might inherit the entire estate, even if there are children; in others, a spouse and the children split the estate equally. If there is no surviving spouse, and no living children, the courts decide who inherits according to the law, usually beginning with the individual’s siblings, parents, and so on.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Beneficiary – A person designated as the recipient of money or other assets under a will, trust, insurance policy, etc.
  • Estate – An extensive area of land, usually with a large house, belonging to a family; all of the money, property, and possessions belonging to a single person.
  • Will – A legal document in which a person specifies who should receive his assets upon his death.