Doctrine of Exoneration Law and Legal Definition

Under the common law doctrine of exoneration, an heir or devisee is generally entitled to have encumbrances upon real estate paid by the estate’s personalty, rather than from the real property itself, unless the will directs otherwise. The common law doctrine of exoneration does not apply to property passing by right of survivorship. A number of jurisdictions have abrogated the common law doctrine of exoneration, requiring that wills specifically direct that exoneration is intended for encumbered property.

Some statutes, like those of Nebraska, New York, and the Uniform Probate Code, stipulate that a general direction to pay debts is not enough to exonerate specifically devised property. The Uniform Probate Code (UPC) requires a devisee of real property to take the property subject to any encumbrance when a will is silent as to exoneration. The UPC also provides that generic language in a will calling for the payment of debts is insufficient to invoke exoneration.