Learn about naming beneficiaries

How to name beneficiaries and give away your assets

Common scenarios for naming beneficiaries in your will are below, but you can give your money to a charity, or even strangers, if you want.

  1. Giving all assets to a surviving spouse.
  2. If unmarried, leave assets evenly among your children.
  3. It is also common to leave assets to parents, siblings or extended family.

Naming beneficiaries to specific assets clears up confusion over who gets your money, property, or stuff.

Get Specific

If leaving everything to just one person or split evenly between two parties, you may not need to leave extensive instructions. However, if certain heirlooms like a painting, or family treasure like your great grandmother’s recipe book should go to a certain friend or relative – you can (and should) specify that in your will.

Most Common "Oh, I totally forgot about that!" items:

  1. If you own all or part of a business, you need to include that.
  2. Property that you may share, like a family cabin, farm or even joint ownership of a boat or car.
  3. Leaving the person you leave your pets to a financial fund to pay for food and veterinarian bills over time.
  4. Not listing back-up people in your will.

Leaving Money and Assets to Minors

Timing: You can specify how/when minors or children get access to money you leave for them, you can distribute in one chunk or over time, for example, half at 18 and the rest at 25, unless it is for education purposes. (for more on this see about Trusts in Wills 101.

Guardians: You can also name someone to be a Financial Guardian if to watch over the money – this person can be someone other than the Executor of the Will or the Guardian of the child(ren). For more on this see POA in Wills 101.

Other Considerations

Stuff is just stuff, in general we could all get by just fine with less of it. However, some stuff is special or valuable – like your music collection, Elvis costume collection or favorite sweater. Items that may not be ‘worth’ a lot can still be (or feel) very valuable.

Finances are really just numbers on paper – but Money can be complicated and get all tied up in feelings. And when someone dies there are often very big feelings flying all over the place. You can make it easier by leaving fewer questions or things to sift through.

Check Your Beneficiaries Lately?

Since you are going through the effort to get your house in order – now is a great time to check your beneficiaries on your bank accounts, insurance policies and investments. What you last put on that paper (last week or ten years ago) is what stands up in court (even if your Will is more current). So update your Beneficiaries (insurance, 401k, bank accounts, etc.) online or in persona or the ex you don’t speak to anymore might get a nice surprise. Ouch!

GYST Reader Tip

Alice from Minnesota shares her family's creative way to give away assets: "My mother, as a little girl, watched her parents, grandparents and cousins have nasty fights over pieces of furniture that were to be handled down. The fights were so bad that people did not speak to each other for years and she was determined that she would find a better way."

"Whenever my two brothers, sister and I visited home, Mom would pull out things she was ready to get rid of – old books, serving plates, vases, wall hangings, etc. She’d put 4 items together that she thought had equal value (monetary or sentimental). Then the four of us would draw a number (one through four). For the first group of items, the person who drew the "1" got to choose first , the person who drew the "2" choose second and so on. For the second group of items, the "2" person would go first, the "3" person would choose second and so on. We'd continue the rotation until the items had been selected."

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