Everything you own and everything you owe at the time of your death will be subject to the provisions you make now. The creation of a last will and testament gives people the opportunity to make decisions about their estate now. Not making out a will or using other means of addressing your estate, like a trust, means you are giving the government the power to make those decisions for you. The way you address your wishes by naming beneficiaries is important, so read on to find out more.
What Are Beneficiaries?
You should name the people and the organizations you want to specifically address with a bequeath in your will. You can leave anything you own in a will and that includes pets, real estate, vehicles, jewelry, cash, bank accounts, and more. You don't have to designate specific people by name, however. Many testators (the person writing the will) will state the full estate goes to their spouse at the time of death. Another common tactic is to state that the estate is to be evenly divided between all legal children of the deceased. It's important to update your will every time a big life event occurs to ensure you don't accidentally exclude or include someone.
Spouses as Beneficiaries
No matter what you say in your will, some states have provisions in place that protect the interests of a current spouse after a death. If you fail to leave your spouse with what the state considers a proper inheritance, the spouse may be allowed to contest the will and be awarded the state minimum. Often the provision ensures the surviving spouse is paid anywhere from one-half to one-third of the estate. In almost all states, though, spouses may be excluded from inheriting anything at all if that is what the testator directs.
Be careful about naming a child under the age of 18 in your will. If you leave a minor child property, you may also need to make other provisions like a guardian to oversee the property until they are old enough to inherit it. Also, unless you name them specifically, a step-child may not be included in a per stirpes provision. If the child was legally adopted, however, they may inherit on the same basis as a natural child.
Speak to a probate or estate planning attorney when it's time to create or update your will.