A legatee, also called a beneficiary, is a person who will receive something from a will, when the will is executed, usually by the executor responsible for carrying out the wishes of the testator (person who made the will). Companies or corporations can be considered legatees too. There used to be a significant difference made between beneficiaries who inherited personal property, and those who inherited land. Sometimes an individual who receives land from a will is called a devisee, though this distinction may not be made.
Legatee is from the Latin word legare which can mean to bequeath or simply, legacy. Another definition of legatee is “someone who receives a legacy.” Legacy is normally defined as those things left after a person dies, which may include personal property and land.
One thing that the legatee generally must understand, is that even if he or she will inherit something, he or she is not yet entitled to what will be inherited. If you inherit a house in a will, you can’t immediately take possession of it. The executor must first carry out the plans in the will, and any legal challenges to the will can forestall inheriting anything. Most executors perform their duties as quickly as possibly, but this can be a challenging task if they need legal advice, or if the legacy left is large, and many legatees are involved.
Sometimes problems arise if the executor of the will refuses to act in a timely and responsible manner. When such situations arise, and they are by no means uncommon, especially if the executor is not a lawyer, all legatees may band together to legally attempt to force the executor to act, or to replace the executor with someone who will execute the will and distribute property, land, money, personal items and other, according to the deceased’s wishes.
A single legatee, or someone left out of a will can also challenge the legality of the will, which is why it is very important to create a will that conforms to the legal requirements of one’s state and/or country. Should the will be considered invalid from a legal standpoint, those who inherit may see a very different disbursement of property than what was originally intended. Some legatees view the nature of inheriting as simply "not counting” until the will has been proofed and executed without challenge from any other survivors.
Another related term is residual legatee. This is a person entitled to the remains of property once any specific disbursements are made. Again, the residual legatee may face challenges as to their right to inherit all residual property; so all wills and testaments are best created by lawyers experienced in creating ironclad, legal statements that will survive challenge.