How to choose who inherits your estate

One of the most important things to consider when writing a will is who is going to inherit your estate. Here, we cover everything you need to know before choosing your beneficiaries.

Many people put off writing a will because they assume everything will work out fine if they die unexpectedly. But this isn’t always the case.

If your loved ones don’t know where your money is kept, they may never be able to find it – which could mean your hard-earned savings end up going to the government rather than your family. And even if your assets are easy to find, your family could be left in chaos arguing over who gets what. So it’s important to write a will so that everyone knows what you would have wanted.

Here, we’ll cover the key questions people ask about sharing out their estate.

What is my residuary estate?

Your residuary estate is everything you own after any debts, bills and taxes have been paid and after the specific gifts you include in your will have been distributed.

This includes things like:

✅ Bank accounts

✅ Savings

✅ ISAs

✅ Property (owned solely or as tenants in common)

✅ Stocks and shares

✅ Pensions

And here are a few things that aren’t included in your residuary estate:

❌ Pensions or life insurance policies written in trust: these go directly to the person you nominated when you took out the policy, so can’t be shared out as part of your residuary estate.

❌ Joint bank accounts: these automatically go to the joint-owner when you die.

❌ Jointly-owned property: if you own the property as joint tenants, it will go to the joint owner. You can read more about what happens to your property when you die here.

Who should I leave my estate to in my will?

If you’re in a relationship…

Most married couples, civil partners and long-term partners choose to leave the bulk of their residuary estate to their partner. This is usually due to shared responsibilities like bringing up children or paying a mortgage where your partner would rely on your financial support. It's important to remember that without a will, if you are in a long term relationship and not married, or in a civil partnership, your partner will not inherit automatically.

If you’re a single parent…

If you’re a parent but don’t have a partner, you may wish to share your estate between your children. Anything left to children under 18 will be held by your executors until they reach adulthood. Your executors can choose to transfer the gift to the child’s parent or guardian for safekeeping at their discretion, or to use it for the child’s benefit before they reach 18.

If you don’t want to leave your money to your family…

If you don't make a will, your money will automatically go to members of your family. So it’s important to set out your wishes to make sure your estate doesn’t go to the wrong people.

If you don’t want to leave your estate to your family or close friends, you may choose to include a charity in your will.

Leaving part of your estate to charity

Since starting our online will writing service in 2016, our generous customers have pledged over £900 million to charities across the country – including Cancer Research UK, Greenpeace and The British Legion.

Around 1 in 3 people choose to leave a gift to a charity that they feel strongly about. This has an enormous impact on charities in the UK, accounting for 25% of all voluntary charitable contributions.

You can choose to leave a percentage of your residuary estate to more than one charity if you wish. And if you leave 10% or more of your taxable estate to charity, you could reduce your tax bill.

Can my wishes still be disputed if I write a will?

When writing a will in England and Wales, there is full ‘testamentary freedom’. This means there are no set rules about who you have to include as a beneficiary of your estate.

However, there are some people who can make a claim against your estate on the grounds that your will fails to make reasonable financial provision for them. It's important to be aware of this if you are intentionally excluding a partner, child or somebody else who depends on you financially.

People who can claim against your estate include your children, ex-wife, ex-husband, civil partner who has yet to remarry, or somebody who has lived with you as a partner for the two years preceding your death. Anyone else who you are financially responsible for – such as step children or other children under your care – could also make a claim.

What happens if the beneficiaries in my will die before me?

Writing a will is all about being prepared. So when you choose who you want to inherit your estate, we’ll also ask you to name back-ups in case your chosen beneficiary dies before you. These are known as secondary beneficiaries.

You may, for example, choose to leave your entire estate to your partner. You could then choose your children as secondary beneficiaries – so if your partner dies before you, everything would go to your children.

In the unlikely event that all your primary and secondary beneficiaries die before you, your estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy. Alternatively, if you're using Farewill's online will writing service, you can update your will anytime your circumstances change for just £10 a year.

How to choose who inherits your estate

With our online will writing service, you can set out who you want to inherit your estate in just a few minutes. You can also update your will anytime in the future, which is perfect for when there are new additions to the family.

After you’ve finished your will, our specialist checks will make sure your wishes are clear. Then you’ll be able to print it (or order a printed copy), sign it and put it away somewhere safe, enjoying the relief that your money will go to the right place when you’re gone.

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