Choosing Alternates for Your Main Beneficiaries

When you’re making your Nolo’s Online Will, if you specify that one or more beneficiaries should receive all or most of your property, your next task will be to decide who would get that property if any of your first-choice beneficiaries were to die before you do.

The will you make with Nolo’s Online Will provides that all beneficiaries must survive you by 45 days to receive the property you leave them. This is a standard will provision, called a survivorship requirement. It is based on the assumption that if a beneficiary survives you by only a few days or weeks, you would prefer the property to go to another beneficiary that you name in your will.

The alternates you choose will receive the property only if your first-choice beneficiaries do not survive for at least 45 days after you die.

Naming Alternates

You may name whomever you want as alternates for each of your first-choice beneficiaries. For instance, for each of your first-choice beneficiaries, you may name a family member or a group of friends. If you name more than one person, you may specify the share each is to receive.

If a first-choice beneficiary does not survive you by 45 days, the alternates you name will receive the property he or she would have received.

EXAMPLE 1: Christine is not married and has no children. She is very close to her sister Karen and wants to leave all her property to her.

In her will, Christine names Karen as her first-choice beneficiary. As alternates, she names Karen’s two children.

EXAMPLE 2: Ari leaves all of his property to his two brothers Seth and David. Because Seth is more financially stable, he indicates that Seth should get 25% of his estate and David should get 75%. He names his cousin Rachel as an alternate beneficiary for David’s share. She will get 75% of Ari’s estate if David does not survive Ari. Ari names his best friend as an alternate for Seth’s share. If Seth does not survive Ari, his friend will get 25% of the estate.

If you are married or have children, your options are slightly different. Read more about Choosing Alternates for Your Spouse or Partner and Choosing Alternates for Your Children.

Naming More Than One Alternate

If you name more than one alternate for any main beneficiary, you will next decide how those alternates will split the gift. You can choose to have them split it equally or unequally. If you choose unequally, you will then choose what percentage each alternate should get. If one alternate (in addition to the primary beneficiary) were to not survive you by 45 days, the other alternate(s) will receive all of the property the alternates would have shared.

If You Do Not Name Alternates

It is usually a good idea to name at least one alternate beneficiary. But not everyone chooses to do so. You may decide not to name an alternate, for example, if you are not concerned that your first-choice might die before or soon after you--although you are gambling with the unknown. Or you may simply not know a person suitable to act as an alternate taker.

If you leave your entire estate to one person and you do not name alternate beneficiaries, if your primary beneficiaries do not survive you, your estate will be distributed according to the laws of your state. Learn more about the laws of Intestate Succession.

However, if you name more than one first-choice beneficiary and you don’t name alternates, if any of those beneficiaries dies within 45 days of your death, the surviving beneficiaries will share the deceased person’s property. If you like this plan, then you do not need to name alternate beneficiaries.

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