There are so many ways to divide your estate up and so many options for who you can leave your property and assets to. In this article, we will discuss who you can name as beneficiaries in your will and who you cannot. We will also discuss how to name multiple beneficiaries and what happens if a beneficiary dies before you.
Who Can Be a Beneficiary in My Will?
When it comes to naming inheritors in your will, there are plenty of options. You can name:
- Entities (businesses and organisations)
The executor of your will can be a beneficiary, too if you’d like. It is actually suggested you provide for the executor of your will because it is a difficult job with complex admin and legal matters to sort out.
Who Can’t I Name As a Beneficiary in My Will?
The only people who cannot be a beneficiary in your will are the witnesses. In the UK, you need two witnesses to sign your will, and neither can be a beneficiary or inheritor. While it will not invalidate your will, the witnesses cannot receive any inheritance that you leave them. This is to stop fraud and coercion in creating the will.
How Can I Divide Up My Estate?
There are a number of ways you can divide up your estate depending on your circumstances. Here are some popular options:
- Name one person as the sole beneficiary of your estate
- Divide your estate between multiple people in equal shares
- Divide your estate between multiple inheritors with specified shares
- Instruct your estate to sell all assets and distribute the funds between beneficiaries
- Specify which assets go to certain inheritors
- Specify certain assets go to certain beneficiaries and divide the remaining estate amongst beneficiaries
When you are preparing to make a will, you should think about if you want certain assets or property to be given to certain people. This will help you decide which method or combination of methods may work best for you. You may think that a certain family member will be able to run your business better than others and leave the business to them to ensure your legacy carries on. Or you may believe that certain family members will appreciate parts of your real estate portfolio, or others may prefer cash. Think about what type of asset would benefit the inheritor best and what your wishes are for the asset. Do you care if they sell the stock portfolio you worked so hard to build, or would you prefer to keep it intact so that it can help your family build wealth for generations to come. If you have specific wishes, you should also consider protecting the asset in a trust.
In some cases, a beneficiary may not outlive you. While we advise you to update your will every time there are changes to your circumstances, and someone is born, marries, or dies, sometimes updating your will can fall by the wayside. Naming alternate beneficiaries can provide for any deaths that may occur between writing your will and your death. It also provides for accidents that cause the death of you and some of your beneficiaries.
You can provide alternate beneficiaries, no matter which method you choose to divide up your estate. For example, if you are dividing up your estate equally between your two kids John and Jane, your will may look like the below.
I leave my entire estate to be split equally between my two children John Doe and Jane Doe. If one of them does not survive me, then their share shall be put into a trust for their children if they are under 18 or split equally between their adopted and biological children if they are over 18. If either John or Jane does not survive me and does not have children, then my entire estate shall go to my surviving child.
For a second example, let’s look at naming a beneficiary for a particular item of value.
I leave my art collection to the Tate Gallery except for the Matisse, which I leave to Gloria Smith. If Gloria Smith does not survive me, then the Matisse shall be left to her wife, Kelly Peters. If neither survive me, then the Tate Gallery shall be left the Matisse as well.
How to Disinherit Someone In Your Will
If you have had a falling out with someone, especially a child and wish to disinherit them in your will, the law recognises your right to do so. However, you need to follow a specific process in order to do so to protect them from contesting your will after your death. We recommend seeking the help of an attorney if you plan to disinherit someone in your will. They can help you with the legal wording and the correct steps you need to take to reduce the likelihood and success of any contests.
First, you need to explicitly state in your will that you are purposefully not leaving them anything. Otherwise, your children may be able to argue that you simply forgot to do so. You should also outline the reasons why you are disinheriting your children and note that they have not made any attempts to rekindle the relationship. This section of your will should also state that you wish the executors to take the necessary steps to defend any contest from those children.
If you are elderly or suffer from mental illness, you should ask a medical professional to write a dated note attesting that you are in good health and of sane mind on that day. Your attorney can keep this on file as evidence. You might also decide to write a note detailing the reasons why you became estranged from that child and detailing any rebuffed attempts by you to rekindle the relationship or any further incidents that cemented your decision to disinherit them. This letter can be kept by your lawyer and presented as evidence if there is any contest to your will.
You should also make your intention to disinherit your children clear to trusted loved ones who can act as a witness to your wishes. Finally, you should update your will regularly. If you die years after making a will disinheriting your children, it may give the court pause to consider if your intentions were still to disinherit the children. If it was made within a year of your death or when you fell ill and reasonably believed you might die, then the court is unlikely to believe that the circumstances changed during that time.