What is a devisee?

Devisees are typically beneficiaries of a will who receive real property, but some states may define the term more loosely

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Elissa SuhSenior Editor & Disability Insurance ExpertElissa Suh is a disability insurance expert and a former senior editor at Policygenius, where she also covered wills, trusts, and advance planning. Her work has appeared in MarketWatch, CNBC, PBS, Inverse, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and more.

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A devisee is typically someone who receives real property (the devise) through a will. Real property includes real estate and land. “Devisee” may be defined more generally in some state legal codes to include personal property. Other states may not even use the term devisee, instead choosing a broader, less discriminating term, like distributee for someone receiving property of any kind. If someone died without a will and you receive real property under the terms of intestate succession or as community property, you are technically not a devisee, but an heir.

If you think that a devisee sounds a lot like a beneficiary, then you are not wrong. A beneficiary is whoever you name to receive your assets and belongings and a devisee would certainly fall under that category. When you’re writing a will, you won’t necessarily encounter the word “devisee.” In fact, an estate lawyer or online will service may avoid this term since the exact definition varies by state and it may not be worth the confusion — there are a few different legal terms that describe someone who receives an asset, which we’ll discuss more in depth in this article.

Key takeaways

  • A devisee is a kind of beneficiary but not all beneficiaries are devisees.

  • Individual states define the term devisee differently.

  • A decedent’s heirs are determined by a probate court when there is no will.

What does devisee mean?

Dictionaries have traditionally defined a devisee as someone who specifically receives real property through someone’s last will and testament. Real property just means land and real estate. If the testator (will writer) leaves their house to their daughter, then she would be a devisee.

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Devisees can be further subdivided into different types: specific or residuary. A specific devisee is named to receive a particular asset, while a residuary devisee is a beneficiary named to receive the remainder or residue of the estate.

Devisee is one of a few different terms traditionally used to describe someone who receives an asset from a decedent. These terms are used differently in individual states depending on how their law defines them.

  • A devisee is someone named in a will to receive real property

  • A legatee is named in a will to receive personal property

  • A beneficiary is someone named to receive an asset of any type

  • An heir is someone who receives an asset (any time) under the laws of intestacy

Devisee vs legatee

Someone who receives personal property throuogh a will might be called a legatee. However, some states’ laws no longer distinguish between the type of property that is bequeathed. For example, in California and Florida a devisee inherits either personal or real property, so long as the assets pass under the terms of a testator’s will; neither state uses the term legatee for these cases. New York’s probate code uses both devisee and legatee, and also employs the term "distributee" to describe people receiving property (of any kind) in a will. If you have specific questions about the terms and how they’re defined in your area, contact an estate planning attorney.

How does a devisee receive assets?

After a testator dies, a devisee receives the assets named to them. The estate executor must typically bring the decedent’s will to court where it will be validated before any assets and property can be transferred. Depending on the size of the decedent’s estate and what procedures are available in the state, there may be a formal probate proceeding, an informal probate process, or none at all, which means you (as a devisee) might receive your assets more quickly.

➞ Learn more about how probate works

Devisee vs beneficiary

Beneficiary is a broad term used to describe someone who is named to receive an asset, whether the asset is passed through a will or other type of account. Devisees are beneficiaries of a will, but not all beneficiaries are devisees. Other types of assets also have beneficiary designations, like a life insurance or payable-on-death account (POA). Trusts also have beneficiaries. A trust is an estate planning option that lets you pass along your things (including real property) directly to a beneficiary outside of probate.You can even have your will transfer assets into your trust, which would make the trust a devisee.

➞ Learn how a trust works and if it's right for you

Devisee vs heir

When you see the word “heir” outside of a legal setting, it usually refers to anyone who stands to inherit. However, in the context of wills and probate law the definition of an heir is more concrete. An heir is someone who inherits from a person who died without a will. When a decedent dies intestate, or without a will, their estate must be probated by the court. A judge will determine who gets the decedent’s property and belongings according to state intestacy laws, which are based on who is next of kin. The surviving spouse is usually entitled to at least some of the estate.

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