How to Pass Your Property When You're Married

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. If you want to leave everything to your spouse, this job will be exceedingly simple. It will take a bit more effort if you have more complex wishes in mind.

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 aide -- to help you think through what property you own. It will not, and should not, be included with your final will document.

Leaving All Your Property to Your Spouse or Domestic Partner

If you choose to leave all the property you own to your spouse or registered domestic partner, you won't need to list each item separately when making your will. After your death, whatever you own will go to your spouse or partner.

This does not include, of course, property that passes outside your will -- for example, property in a living trust or owned in joint tenancy.

This option may suit you best if you have young children and trust your spouse or domestic partner to adequately provide for the children with the property you leave.

If you have children from a prior marriage, or your children are older and you want them to get some of your property directly, or you have specific items and cash that you want to go to particular children or to other people, one of the other options may be a better choice.

Leaving Most of Your Property to Your Spouse or Domestic Partner, Some to Others

If you want to leave the bulk of the property you own to your spouse or domestic partner, but have specific items that you want other people to get, choose this option.

Later in the interview, you will need to specifically list only the items you leave to other people; everything else will pass to your spouse or partner.

Leaving Your Property Some Other Way

You may divide up your property and leave it to people item by item, or leave a group of items to a certain beneficiary. Each gift you make this way is called a specific bequest.

First, you will name someone (or a group of people) to take any property you own at death but have not specifically mentioned in a specific bequest. Then you can name as many specific gifts as you'd like.

This option offers flexibility, but be sure that you understand the rules governing what you own and the rights of your spouse or partner.

If you plan to leave less than half of your property to your spouse or registered domestic partner. The laws of your state may enable him or her to override your will and claim a substantial portion of what you own at your death.

Learn more about Property Ownership Rules for Spouses and Your Spouse’s Right to Inherit from You.

Naming a Trust as Beneficiary

[At this time, you cannot name a trust as beneficiary of 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.