What Does it Mean for a Gift to “Lapse” in New York Estate Law?

Definition of LAPSE:
(verb) / the failure of a testamentary gift, especially when the beneficiary dies before the testator dies (Black’s Law Dictionary).

Plain English translation: Not all gifts written into a last will make their way to the named beneficiary. In some circumstances, a gift will fail or lapse. There are several reasons why a gift could lapse, including the death of a beneficiary and a divorce between the testator (the one making the will) and the beneficiary. In these circumstances, the gift is extinguished.

Example 1: 
Taraa wrote a last will which directs that, upon her death, her engagement ring be given to her best friend, Myrna. Taraa passed away in 2019, and Myrna died two years earlier in 2017. Since Myrna predeceased Taraa, the gift to Myrna lapses—it doesn’t occur. Neither Myrna, nor Myrna’s estate is entitled to the ring.

Example 2:
Now let’s say Taraa left her entire estate to her husband, Alvin, but Taraa and Alvin got divorced in 2017, two years before Taraa’s death in 2019. In this case, Taraa’s gift of her entire estate to Alvin lapses—he gets nothing because of the divorce.

Then, what happens? Learn about how lapsed gifts are treated and New York’s anti-lapse statute in our article, What Happens to a Lapsed Gift in New York Estate Law?

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Daniel R. Antonelli
Representing trust & estate clients with an emphasis on estate litigation in the New York City Metro Area.