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Agoura Hills Estate Planning, Probate & Trust Attorneys

What is the difference between lapse, ademption, and abatement? And why should I care?

Providing Peace of Mind One Estate Plan at A Time

In estate planning and inheritance law, some important concepts can change who inherits what from you. Lapse, ademption, and exoneration all relate to the distribution of assets after a person’s death, but they are distinct legal concepts that apply in different situations.


Lapse occurs when a beneficiary named in a will predeceases the testator, or person who made the will. If the will does not name an alternate beneficiary (like the original beneficiary’s spouse or kids), then the gift to the original beneficiary will lapse, meaning that it will not be given to anyone else.


Ademption, on the other hand, occurs when a specific asset that is bequeathed to a beneficiary is no longer owned by the testator when he or she dies. In such case, the gift is said to have “adeemed,” and the beneficiary will not receive anything in its place.


Abatement occurs when there are insufficient assets to fund all of the gifts in a person’s will or trust. For example, if a will leaves three people $100k each (or $300k total), but there is only $210k left in the estate, there’s an abatement problem. If the three people are the testator’s three children, then they’ll each probably receive $70k (or $210k total). But if two of them are the testator’s children, and one is a non-relative, then the children would probably receive $100k each, and the non-relative would likely receive just $10k.

California’s abatement rules are found in Probate Code §§21400–21406, and contain several important exceptions that could change the outcome in each case.

Why should I care about all this?

Understanding these legal concepts can help ensure that your distributions under your estate plan will proceed smoothly and as intended.

If you wrote a Will or Trust years ago and one of your beneficiaries has since died (possible lapse), or if you sold the family farm that was originally to be left to a particular child (possible ademption), or if you spent down your wealth in retirement and no longer have the funds for all the specific gifts listed in your Will (possible abatement), it’s probably time for an update.

Got more questions? Call us (818.707.8200). We've got answers.

[This blog is for informational purposes only, and should NOT be relied upon as legal advice.]