How to Leave Your Property When You're a Parent

When you make your will with Nolo’s Online Will, one of the key decisions you make will be how to leave your property. In this part of the interview, you specify who gets what after your death. As an unmarried parent, your child may figure prominently in your plans for distributing your property after your death. With that in mind, Nolo's Online Will offers some shortcuts when making your will -- you can choose to leave everything to your child, or everything except a few things. Or you can choose some other plan entirely. In any case, you can leave your property as you see fit, and you’ll have the opportunity to choose alternate beneficiaries as well.

Inventorying Your Property: Optional

Before you continue, you may find it helpful to take an inventory of your property. You can make a simple list by hand or on your computer, or you can use our Property Worksheet to help jog your memory. You can type onto it and save it, or print it out and fill it in by hand.

We provide this worksheet as an aid -- to help you think through what property you own. It will not, and should not, be included with your final will document.

Leaving Your Entire Estate to Your Child

If you choose to leave all the property you own to your child, you won't need to list each item separately when making your will. After your death, your entire estate will go to your child, and next, you'll have a chance to name alternates.

Of course, when we're talking about making your will, "all of the property you own" does not include property that passes outside your will -- for example, property in a living trust or owned in joint tenancy. See "Not All Property Passes by Will," below.

If you have any specific items you want someone else to have, choose one of the other two options.

Leaving Most of Your Property to Your Child, Some to Others

If you want to leave the bulk of the property you own to your child, but have specific items that you want other people to get, choose this option. Later in the interview, you will list only the specific items you want to leave to other people; everything else will pass to your child.

Leaving Your Property Some Other Way

If you don't want to leave most or all of your estate to your children, you don't have to--you can leave it any way you want. If you choose not to leave most of your estate to your children. You'll next decide whether you want to:

  • leave your entire estate to a beneficiary or group of beneficiaries, or
  • leave specific gifts to some people, and then name a person or group of people to get "everything else.

If Your Child Is a Minor

If you're child is under age 18, you will have a chance to provide property management for the property you leave your child through your will. Separately, you can also name a property guardian for any property your child receives outside of your will.

Naming a Trust as Beneficiary

[At this time, you cannot name a trust as a beneficiary in Nolo's Online Will.]

Not All Property Passes by Will

Some types of property will pass through your will, but not others. Types of property that commonly pass through a will include real estate such as a house or land, vehicles, bank accounts, and personal items such as household items, family heirlooms, art, jewelry or antiques. However, these types of property will only pass through your will if you have not made other arrangements for them.

Any property for which you have made other arrangements will not pass through your will. For example, these types of property will not pass through your will:

  • property in a trust (living trust, special needs trust)
  • property with a right of survivorship (joint tenancy, tenancy by the entirety, community property with the right of survivorship), and
  • property for which you have already named a beneficiary (TOD deeds or accounts, retirement benefits, life insurance).

To avoid confusion, do not use your will to name beneficiaries for property that will pass outside of your will.