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Spouse: Your spouse is most likely the first beneficiary designated in a last will. In most states, it’s actually against the law to try to disinherit your spouse upon your death. You may wish to leave everything to your spouse, but you should also consider how well your spouse can manage finances, or provide for other dependents.

Children: While it’s common to leave your assets to your spouse with the expectation that they’ll provide for your children, you may wish to create special provisions for your children, in case something happens to your spouse. This is especially true if you or your spouse have children from another marriage.

Other Family Members: In some cases it may be desirable to provide for siblings and elderly parents. In other cases, nieces and nephews may be appropriate choices.

Friends: Friends, particularly close friends, may be more important to you than family members, and can be appropriate beneficiary choices.

Charities: Charitable organizations provide important services, and many depend on gifts from estates as an important funding source. Leaving a bequest to one or more appropriate charities can help provide important services and benefits to your community and/or promote values that are important to you, and certainly are appropriate beneficiary choices. In addition, tax laws encourage charitable gifting, and as a result, significant income tax and estate tax savings can be achieved through charitable gifting.

Contingent Beneficiaries: You should provide for the possibility that your first choice as a beneficiary will not survive you. You can name a contingent beneficiary to receive your assets in the event your first choice is unable to accept your bequest. You should provide for enough layers of contingent beneficiaries to reasonably assure yourself that beneficiaries will be available to receive the assets of your estate.

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This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.


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