When creating a will, one of the first considerations that people have is who to name as the beneficiaries. A beneficiary to a will is a person or organization you choose to leave your assets to.
For some people, this is a simple decision. Many clients choose to leave everything to a spouse, or evenly divided amongst their children. For others, choosing their beneficiaries can be a bit more complicated. This is especially true with blended families, larger estates and complicated estate plans.
In general, you have the right to choose any person or organization in the world as a beneficiary. There are a few restrictions however. The main restriction is that you cannot choose one of the two witnesses to the signing of your will as a beneficiary. The reason for this to prevent a witness from coercing the will maker into leaving them some property. Also, the witnesses are there to verify the will maker’s state of mind at the time when they sign the will. If the witness to the signing is also receiving property under the will, then they may have motivation to potentially be untruthful about the will maker’s state of mind.
When choosing the witnesses to your will, its best to choose someone over the age of 18, of sound mind, who has no interest in the will. The witnesses do not need to read the will, they only need to witness the will maker signing the will. Often your lawyer will provide witnesses for the will signing ceremony.
Another exception to the general rule that anyone can be a beneficiary is that a person who is criminally responsible for your death cannot be a beneficiary to your will. This is because a person who commits a criminal act cannot legally benefit from that criminal act.
The law allows minor children to be a beneficiary, but, by law, minor children cannot directly receive any assets until they become at least 18 years old. Your estate must put any assets left to a minor child into a trust. The trustee of the trust will then use the trust assets for the benefit of the minor child. You can create these types of trusts in your will. You can also determine the age at which the child actually receives their full inheritance.
Pets cannot be beneficiaries in your will in most jurisdictions. The law considered pets to be property. As a result, you can will the pet to someone who will then take care of the pet, but you cannot will property directly to the pet. If you do leave your pet to someone to take over the care of your pet, I recommend to also leave that person some other assets in order to pay for the care of your pet. Alternatively, in many jurisdictions, you can create a pet trust where you specify the specific expenses that the person that you choose to care for your pet can use the funds in the trust for.
Whoever you decide to name as beneficiaries, it is always a good idea to have a conversation with your friends and family about your wishes and the decisions that you have made in your will and other estate planning documents. The more that they know about what you have decided, the less chance that there will be conflict and disappointment in the future. Having the conversation now allows you to explain your reasons for making your decisions, and avoids misunderstandings in the future.