In some wills, testators expressly condition the beneficiaries’ receipt of legacies upon their survival to the date of actual distribution of the gift during the estate administration. In such circumstances, the question occasionally arises regarding the propriety of such survival mandate where (1) the administration is delayed beyond the average length due to dilatory conduct by the executor or due to litigation, and (2) one or more legatees survived the testator’s death but died prior to the distribution of the legacy. A handful of courts nationally have addressed this fact pattern, arriving at a logical rule applicable when unusual delay in distribution results in the one or more legatees predeceasing distribution.
It is well-settled that the “personal representative is under a duty to settle and distribute the estate of the decedent . . . as expeditiously and efficiently as is consistent with the best interests of the estate.” 31 Am. Jur. 2d Executors and Administrators § 686 (2021). As such, a handful of American courts examining the issue have concluded that the equitable rule in this circumstance is that legacies conditioned upon beneficiary survival to the date of distribution vest at the time such legacies could first have been distributed (often a year from when the estate was opened), to protect such gifts when the administration is unduly delayed.Read More