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Can you decline a legacy left to you in someone's Will?

View profile for Helen Cohen
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In some cases, there may be advantages to refusing a gift left to you in a Will. This blog will explore what these advantages could be and how you might decline a legacy or pass it to someone else with a deed of variation.

If you are left a gift (sometimes known as a legacy) in a Will, you do not have to accept it. It may be that your circumstances have changed since the Will was made and you would prefer the money (or other asset) be passed to someone else. The person entitled to receive the gift is known as a 'beneficiary'.

There may also be tax advantages to a gift passing to a different beneficiary. For example, if Inheritance Tax (IHT) is payable on the gift that you are to receive now, and you ultimately wish to pass that gift on to your children, then IHT may be payable again when it passes from your estate under your Will. By not keeping the gift yourself, but instead passing it straight to your children, IHT should only be payable once, provided the passing on of the gift is handled correctly.

If you decide you do not want to receive a gift left to you in a Will you can usually deal with this in one of two ways:

  1. Disclaim the gift; or,
  2. Arrange for a deed of variation to be prepared, passing the gift on and changing the tax effect of the Will.

Disclaiming a legacy

If you simply do not want to receive a gift you have been left, you can tell the estate’s executors that you would like to disclaim it. If you have been left several different gifts, you can decide to keep some and disclaim others. You cannot disclaim part of a gift, for example, if you have been left a painting and £15,000 in cash, you could keep the money and refuse the painting, but you cannot decide to keep half of the cash gift.

Any gift that is disclaimed will usually be distributed in accordance with the Will. If the deceased did not make a Will, then the gift will pass under the Rules of Intestacy (this is the law which sets out who is entitled to someone’s estate if they die without leaving a valid Will). This means that if you disclaim a legacy, you do not choose who receives the gift instead of you. The Will or the law will determine who is the new beneficiary.

The executor of the estate will usually ask you to sign a document confirming that you do not want the gift, having the effect that you would no longer be entitled to receive it. This is so that the executor can abide by their duty to ensure any beneficiaries receive what they are entitled to under the Will.

Preparing a Deed of variation

If you want to be able to decide who receives the gift, then you would need to use a deed of variation.

When you make a deed of variation, you are not disclaiming the gift, but instead passing it on to another person. In effect you are receiving the gift but not benefitting from it, and then gifting it to someone else. A deed of variation can change the tax impact of this gift you are making, so that HM Revenue & Customs would view the gift that you are making as though it had come directly from the deceased person under their Will or Intestacy.  The deed has to be prepared carefully to ensure that the tax benefits are secured. If you are considering using a deed of variation you should always take advice from a qualified lawyer, as there are options for if and how the tax position will be affected, and a deed of variation cannot affect all types of tax. If you do not take the proper legal advice you may end up with a document which does not achieve your intended aims, and which could make the tax position worse.  Any deed of variation should be signed within two years of the date of death, otherwise the potential tax benefits will be lost.

It is important to take legal advice before disclaiming an inheritance or signing a deed of variation, as there can be serious implications, which you may not anticipate or consider without the proper guidance.


Contact us

If you would like to consider preparing a deed of variation to pass your entitlement on to someone else, or you would like advice on your options for giving up a gift under a Will or Intestacy, please contact us  on 01252 733 770 or email us at for details of our procedure and fees, and to make an appointment to speak with one of our expert probate and estates lawyers at our Farnham office.