Naming a Residuary Beneficiary

When you choose to give some specific items to certain people (rather than leaving your estate as a whole), Nolo’s Online Will asks you to name a beneficiary for your residuary estate. Your residuary beneficiary or benefciaries will get everything not named as specific bequests. If you name one person or a group of people to receive your “entire estate,” you won’t name a residuary beneficiary.

What a Residuary Beneficiary Receives

Your residuary beneficiary receives anything that does not go to the beneficiaries you named to receive specific bequests.

So, if you leave specific gifts, the residuary beneficiary receives property that:

  • you overlook when making your will
  • you acquire after you make your will, and
  • does not go to the person you named to get it in a specific bequest—for example, because that person died before you did and you did not name an alternate beneficiary, or the alternate also failed to survive you.

EXAMPLE: In her will, Sara, a widow, leaves many different items to many different beneficiaries: books to her daughter, jewelry to a friend, a car to her nephew and so on. She doesn’t name alternate beneficiaries for these specific bequests, but she names her daughter as residuary beneficiary.

When Sara dies, some years after making the will, the friend to whom she left the jewelry has already died. The jewelry goes to Sara’s daughter, as does any other property that Sara acquired since making her will.

There is no need to describe, in your will, the property the residuary beneficiary will receive. By definition, your residuary estate is the rest of your property that does not pass outside of your will or in a specific bequest, so it is impossible to know exactly what it will include. When your executor inventories your entire estate after your death, he or she will identify your residuary estate.

How to Name Residuary Beneficiaries

You can name one or more people as residuary beneficiaries. If you name more than one residuary beneficiary, the program will ask you what shares you want each to receive.

EXAMPLE: After making a large number of specific bequests in his WillMaker Plus will, Maurice leaves his residuary estate to his four children, Clara, Heinrich, Lise and Wiebke. He wants Lise and Wiebke each to receive 30% (3/10) of the property and the other two children to each receive 20% (2/10) each. So, he indicates that he wants to leave the residuary estate in unequal shares and enters the desired shares.

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 to choose someone to manage the property for them until they are older.

Naming Alternates

You can also choose to name an alternate residuary beneficiary, in case your first choice does not survive you by 45 days.

If you do not name alternates for specific bequests, and the primary beneficiary dies before you do, the property will become part of your residuary estate.

EXAMPLE 1: After making many specific bequests, Alfredo leaves his residuary estate to his daughter, Vanessa. He then specifies that if Vanessa does not survive him, her share should go to her two children—Alfredo’s grandchildren—in equal shares. If Vanessa does not survive Alfredo, and Alfredo does not write a new will, Vanessa’s children would each take one-half of Alfredo’s residuary estate.

EXAMPLE 2: Jack makes a large number of specific bequests to friends and relatives and then leaves his residuary estate to his friend, Joe. He names another friend, Josette, as alternate residuary beneficiary. Josette will be entitled to take property under Jack’s will only if Joe does not survive Jack by 45 days and there is property left over after the specific bequests are distributed.

If you do not name an alternate residuary beneficiary, and your first choice residuary beneficiary does not survive you by 45, the property that would have gone to your residuary beneficiary will be distributed according to the intestate succession laws of your state.

It is especially wise to name an alternate residuary beneficiary if you are married or in a registered domestic partnership and your residuary beneficiary is your spouse or domestic partner. Then, if you and your spouse or partner die together or within 45 days of each other, your property will go to someone you have chosen to get it.