Naming Your Main Beneficiary

When you choose to leave your entire estate to one or more beneficiaries, WillMaker 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 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 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 WillMaker 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 an Organization as Beneficiary

You may want to leave property to a charity or a public or private organi­zation—for example, the American Red Cross, the Greenview Battered Women's Shelter or the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

The organization you name need not be set up as a nonprofit unless you wish your estate to qualify for a charitable estate tax deduction. It can be any organization you consider worthy of your bequest. The only limitation is that the organization must not be set up for some illicit or illegal purpose.

The organization you name will receive your gift with no strings attached. You cannot use your will to describe how the property should be used. If you want to do that—for example, if you want a gift to your alma mater to be used as a scholarship for a student who gets above a 3.5-grade point average—see an experienced estate planning attorney for advice.

When naming an organization, be sure to enter its complete name, which may be different from the truncated version by which it is commonly known. Several different organizations may use similar names—and you want to be sure your bequest goes to the one you have in mind. Someone at the organization will be more than happy to help you get it straight.

Naming a Trust as Beneficiary

You can name a trust as a beneficiary of your will. Some people do this to create a "pour-over" will that puts any property that would go through the will into a trust. Other will-makers may want to name a special needs trust as a beneficiary of their will to avoid the problems that might occur if a beneficiary with special needs receives a gift outright. Read more about Naming a Trust as Beneficiary of Your Will.