Naming Inheritors & Beneficiaries (Even Pets) and Disinheriting, Too
Updated: Mar 17
One of the main purposes of a Last Will and Testament is to distribute your assets to your heirs. This includes making arrangements for the care of your pets and even excluding certain people from inheriting anything.
The people that you choose and name in your Will to leave your assets are called beneficiaries. Generally, you can name anyone as a beneficiary. This includes family members, friends, charitable organizations, institutions, or religious organizations.
There are, of course, some exceptions. Most states will not permit witnesses to the Will to be beneficiaries. Additionally, pets cannot be named as beneficiaries - however, you could set up a trust for them. More information on that below.
Unlike a beneficiary that receives an inheritance through a Will, an heir is a person, including your children or surviving spouse, that is legally entitled to inherit your property and assets, typically if you do not have a Will. Each state has its own regulations governing how assets are distributed to heirs.
Distributing Your Assets
Most people leave their assets to multiple beneficiaries. When you designate multiple beneficiaries, you will need to determine how your assets or gifts are going to be distributed among them. There are many ways that assets can be divided. One of the most common ways is to distribute them equally among all beneficiaries.
Another way is to distribute unequally - gifting a greater share to one beneficiary then the others. For example, you could choose to leave 75% of your total estate to your sister and 25% to your cousin.
You can also distribute using a combination model: leaving 50% of your total estate to your brother, 25% to your cousins to be divided equally between them, and 25% to your church.
Another common technique is to designate certain heirlooms or items to go to a particular beneficiary. You could choose to divide your entire estate equally among all of your children with the exception of your jewelry which could go to your daughter only.
Real Estate & Beneficiaries
Real estate is typically distributed through a Will. However, there are special considerations to take into account when it comes to distributing property to multiple beneficiaries.
For instance, you could leave a piece of real property, or real estate, to three children in equal shares. This means that each of the three children holds a 1/3 interest in the property.
But what happens when one of the three children want to sell their share? There are a number of options that can be worked into your will to make it easier for your children in this situation. You can add a provision in your Will that requires a child interested in selling their 1/3 ownership to first offer it to be purchased by the other children. If the other children refuse to purchase, then the entire property would have to be sold and each child would be entitled to a 1/3 distribution of the sale price.
Pets and Other Furry Friends
We all love our pets and want the best for them when we pass. However, an animal does not have legal standing to inherit any of your property. So how can you provide for your beloved pets?
You are permitted to designate someone to care for your pets when you die. Another option is that you can distribute money to the caretaker specifically to use to take care of your pets. It is also possible to set up a special trust for the purpose of providing funds to the caretaker for pet care if you are concerned that the money might not end up going to pet care.
Sorry, You Are Cut Out of My Will
A Will gives you the power to leave your assets and possessions to people of your choosing. If you had a falling out years ago with a sibling, you may not want that person to inherit anything from your estate. You can exclude or disinherit anyone you choose.
If you decide to exclude someone from inheriting anything from your estate, it is critical that you specially exclude them in the Will. Let’s say that you want to exclude your sister because she abandoned your family and then slandered your parents on the Internet. In this case, you might include a provision in your Will that says something like: “I intentionally leave nothing to my sister XYZ because she abandoned the family and posted negative comments about my family online.” It is noteworthy that most states also allow you to disinherit a child. The only state as of 2018 that prohibits disinheriting a child is Louisiana.
Don’t Have a Will?
If you die without a will, it is called dying intestate. As a result, your assets and property are distributed in accordance with your state’s law of intestacy. This means that someone whom you would not have wanted to get anything from your estate could actually end up with most or all of it. For this reason alone, everyone should have a will.
Control Your Asset Distributions
Creating a Will gives you the power to distribute your assets in the way you in which you want. Regardless of what you do with beneficiaries, it is always a good idea to have an open conversation with your family members and explain what you are doing and why.
It is also important to share your Will in a format that cannot be changed in your Gentreo Digital Vault so the person(s) you name have access to your most current and up-to-date Will so it can be easily found and shared with necessary parties.
For more information, visit us at Gentreo.com. We can help you create a simple and affordable health and estate plan, and a safe place to store it.
Gentreo is not a law firm or a substitute for a law firm, or attorney, or an attorney’s advice or recommendations.