When a decedent leaves a will to their heirs sometimes not everything is still available in their estate. If you wrote a will 20 years before your death and never got around to changing it before you passed away there are likely some items in your will that you no longer have in your estate (or your possession). When you no longer have that item in your estate and it was supposed to go to one of your heirs it is considered adeemed. For instance, if you had a red BMW 3 series that you specifically wanted to go to little cousins Jake, but when you passed away, you no longer have the car, then it is considered adeemed and Jake gets nothing. However, if you said that you wanted Jake to have “your car” than Jake would get whatever car you have left in your estate.
This legal principle is known as the doctrine of ademption. When property that is specifically bequeathed to an heir is not in the testator’s estate when they perish, it fails. However, if a beneficiary sells an item that was to be given, then no ademption ever occurs and instead that heir receives money as a replacement. If the court determines that ademption is improper than it will attempt to construe a gift of securities as a general legacy, unless the testator intentionally did not want it to occur.
Ademption of course, only applies to specific bequests, and only if the entire specific bequest is gone from the estate. If only a portion of the bequest is gone than it is not considered adeemed because the heir will simply take whatever is left. For instance, if the testator devised 3 acres of land to his heir, but before his death sold 2 acres of it, the heir would receive 1 acre, and no other compensation. This would also occur if the testator gave the heir money. If the testator granted the her $1,000,000, but only $25,000 is left in the estate, than all that heir would receive is the $25,000. Whenever this occurs it is known as a demonstrative legacy. Of course if the testator so wishes they could give their heir fire or casualty insurance, any other tangible property, or any other interest left in the estate.