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  • Rechelle Leahy

Naming beneficiaries in your Will

Selecting a beneficiary for your estate is a really important part of your Will. Some people choose only one beneficiary while others choose multiple beneficiaries. It all depends on your situation and estate planning needs.

What is a will beneficiary?

The beneficiary or beneficiaries in your Will are the people or entities you choose to receive your property after you pass away.

Most people select their family members or other loved ones, but a beneficiary can also be an organisation or charity that you have always supported.

The beneficiaries of your will can receive anything you own from your real estate, to your personal property such as family heirlooms and even pets.

Who can be a beneficiary in your will?

Generally, you can name anyone you want to be a beneficiary of your Will except someone who is serving as a witness to the signing of your will.

As long as they are alive, you can name them as a beneficiary.

You can name your spouse, children, other friends or loved ones. The beneficiaries you choose can receive all of your property, some of your property, or even just one specific item.

It is up to you how you’d like your property divided up among your beneficiaries.

Choosing your spouse:

Married couples usually name each other as the beneficiaries of their Wills. While this is common, it is not required that you name your spouse to receive all of your property.

Choosing your children:

For the purposes of a Will, 'your children' refers to any children born to you, including those from a prior marriage, or legally adopted by you. Stepchildren are generally not considered 'your children' by law unless you have legally adopted. However, there is no restriction on who you can leave your property to, and you are free to leave your property to children and stepchildren in your Will.

Choosing a minor:

You may leave assets and property to minors in your Will. However, minors cannot directly receive or control any property you leave to them in your Will.

Generally, if you are leaving property to a minor, their legal guardian will be responsible for managing the property that you left to the minor until they turn 18. This property is usually placed in a trust with the minor’s guardian being the trustee who controls the property within the trust on the minor’s behalf.

Upon turning 18, the former minor will assume ownership and control of any property that was left to them.

Choosing an organisation or charity:

In your Will, you can also choose to leave some or all of your assets to the organisation or charity of your choosing. You should be clear when naming the organisation so that your executor has no confusion and is able to carry out your wishes accordingly.

Choosing other beneficiaries:

Anyone else that comes to your mind can be a beneficiary in your will. You are free to choose your friends, loved ones, neighbours, or anyone else you’d like to receive your property after you pass away.

How to name beneficiaries

When naming beneficiaries in your Will, make sure you are as clear and precise as possible when referring to a beneficiary. This will help the people who are carrying out your final wishes better understand who you want to receive your property and help avoid potential mistakes.

When naming people as beneficiaries, make sure to use their full legal names. It can also be beneficial to add the person’s relation to you (e.g. spouse, father, sister). If two beneficiaries have similar names, be sure to distinguish between them in some way ('my father, Mark Smith and my brother, Mark Smith Jr.')

When naming an organisation, it is a good idea to contact the organisation directly and find out what name you should use when making a donation or leaving them a gift in your will.

Some organisations may use a different name for legal purposes and you want to be sure to use the correct one to avoid any mishaps or mistakes in the carrying out of your wishes.

One or many beneficiaries

When naming beneficiaries, you can choose to have just one primary beneficiary and leave all of the estate’s assets to that one person. Or you can choose to have multiple beneficiaries and leave them each property or a portion of your property.

If you are selecting multiple beneficiaries in your will, you have to decide how to distribute your assets among them. There are several options for distributing your property among multiple beneficiaries.


One option is to divide the property equally among all beneficiaries. You can also choose to divide the property unequally and, for example, leave 40% of your estate to your mother and 60% to your spouse.

Another method is to leave specific gifts to certain beneficiaries. This final option might be for you if you have sentimental items or heirlooms that you’d like to go to one specific person.

After naming beneficiaries to receive your property, you will also need to account for the possibility that the people you named are no longer living at the time of your passing, and therefore unable to receive the property you left them. Naming alternate beneficiaries will allow you to specify who should receive your property if the primary beneficiary you chose passes away before you.

If a primary beneficiary dies before you, the alternate beneficiaries named in your Will would receive that beneficiaries share. If no alternate beneficiary is named and the primary beneficiary dies before you, then that property will be distributed according to your state laws.

If you have no beneficiary named

If you do not name beneficiaries in your will, or do not have a will, then state law will determine who receives the property in your estate. Over 50% of people do not have, or have an invalid Will.

Dying without a will is known as dying intestate, and your state’s intestacy laws will dictate who gets what, which may not always be right for your situation and your family, sometimes if there are no close relatives (down to first cousins) the estate will revert to the government.

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