Naming Your Main Beneficiary

When you choose to leave your entire estate to one or more people, Nolo’s Online Will next asks you to name those beneficiaries. Here is some information about making that choice.

What Your Main Beneficiary Receives

The beneficiary or beneficiaries you name to receive your “entire estate” will get all of the property that passes through your will. Keep in mind that not all property passes through your will.

EXAMPLE: Sarah’s estate includes a car, typical household and personal items, and her interest in a house that she owns in joint tenancy with her sister. She names her boyfriend Juan receive her entire estate. When she dies, Juan will get everything she owns, except her interest in the house, which will pass directly to her sister.

How to Name Main Beneficiaries

You can name one or more individuals to receive all or most of your estate beneficiaries. If you name more than one main beneficiary, the program will ask you what shares you want each to receive. If any of the beneficiaries you name is a minor (under 18) or young adult (under 35), later in the interview you will have a chance, in a , to choose someone to manage the property for them until they are older.

Naming Alternates

If you specify that one or more beneficiaries should receive 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 create 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.
If you do not name alternate beneficiaries and your main beneficiaries do not survive you, then your estate will be distributed according to the laws of your state.

Gifts to Caregivers in California, Illinois or Nevada

If you live in California, Illinois, or Nevada and want to leave a substantial gift to any nonrelative who has recently helped you with personal or health care, see a lawyer first. You can leave such a gift—but first you may need to have a lawyer sign a statement, verifying that you’re acting freely and aren’t being unduly influenced.

If you don’t, the gift could be void—meaning the intended recipient won’t get it. These states have laws that aim to prevent caregivers from taking advantage of the people who depend on them. However, the laws could easily invalidate perfectly reasonable gifts that you really want to make. For example, a gift to a new neighbor who brings meals and helps you pay bills could be voided, as could a gift to a paid live-in caregiver who has become a good friend.

These laws apply only to gifts greater than:

  • $5,000 in California (or less if your entire estate will be worth less than $150,000)
  • $20,000 in Illinois, and
  • $3,000 in Nevada.

Most gifts to family members won’t be affected, but gifts to loved ones who are not legally related, like stepchildren or unmarried partners, could be voided if your will is challenged. If you think these laws could void gifts that you want to make, see a lawyer who handles estate planning, family law or elder care matters for help.

Naming a Trust as Beneficiary

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