The final blast of legalese in many wills, this phrase emerged from a prolonged struggle among lawyers to find just the right words to describe the leftover bits of one’s estate.
Rest, residue and remainder has been described as a “ritual utterance” – a sort of incantation that lawyers hope will bring good luck. There is no particular technical significance to any of those words, although lawyers do occasionally take a stab at creating bogus pedigrees for them. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, some courts followed the English case of Hogan v. Jackson, in which the court decided that “remainder” referred to real estate, while “residue” referred to personal property.
The phrase does evoke English law's fascination with poetic rhythm, as heard in such formulations as "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." Anglo-Saxon law, you see, emerged from an oral tradition in which legal phrases were memorized as semi-poetic verses.