Beneficiaries - who can benefit from your will?

Anyone can benefit

In England and Wales you have almost complete freedom to leave your estate to whoever you wish. After all, it’s your property!

If you want to choose who to benefit from your estate – make a will and spell it out. Otherwise the law takes over and decides how your property is to be distributed.

Make it clear

The most important consideration is making it clear who you intended to benefit from your will. Generally, unless you would like to give a gift to a very large group of people it is a good idea to specifically name the people you would like to benefit from your will. It is always important to be as precise as possible. This will not only make the job of administering your estate easier for your executors, but it will also ensure that none of your gifts will be ruled invalid for uncertainty. Our Failure of gifts page fully explains the consequences of gifts being ruled invalid, and the following pages on Named beneficiaries will help to make clear how to make sure your gifts are sufficiently clear.

Particular categories of beneficiary

There are also some particular considerations for different categories of beneficiaries. This section explains the issues, advantages and any particular rules which apply if you are leaving your estate to your Spouse or civil partner, or leaving gifts to charity. Small but important additional questions are raised by leaving gifts or part of your estate to Child beneficiaries. And more potentially complicated issues arise if any of your beneficiaries is someone with an Overseas connection.

Dependants

One way that people decide who should benefit in their wills is to consider who are their dependants. That can be a useful starting point, so long as you understand what that means. Our page on Dependants will help clear that up for you. 

Excluding people from your will

As well as the need for your will to be sufficiently clear, you must also make adequate provision for your dependants. Anyone who is financially dependent on you at the time of your death may be able to make a claim against your estate if you don’t make reasonable provision for them in your will. For important information about who may be able to make a claim against you, and what to do if you are concerned about a claim, please see our Can you disinherit family and dependants? page.

(If a term is in bold, that means it's in our Glossary.)