We receive this question from time to time; “who can be a beneficiary in my Last Will and Testament?”. This is a different question to “who must be included in my Will?” which we may address in a future blog posting.
It is a wonderful question though and opens up a world of opportunity for doing great things with one’s legacy. In general, anybody can be a beneficiary of an estate with a couple of exceptions; most notably, they cannot be criminally responsible for your death! The other restriction is that they can not be a witness to the signing of the Will. So the Executor of the Will can be a beneficiary, but not the person who acts as a witness and in some jurisdictions the spouse of a witness. It’s actually a matter of common sense that nobody who can be seen to materially gain from the contents of the Will can serve as the independent witness to the signing.
When your estate is administered, debts, taxes and funeral expenses are paid first, then the estate is distributed according to your wishes. Generally speaking, you are free to leave your possessions to any person or organization in the World . This means that you can include family on the other side of the world, or an organization as a beneficiary like a church, a school or a charity. Even a child can be named as a beneficiary, although their inheritance would be held in trust and used for their benefit until they become adults (or at an age specified by the terms of the trust), at which time, they would actually receive their full inheritance.
But, although anybody or any organization can be a beneficiary of your Will, in general, an animal cannot be named as a beneficiary as most jurisdictions regard a pet as property. Some jurisdictions allow a pet trust to be set up which effectively leaves part of your estate to a person designated as carer of your pet, and it stipulates the kinds of expenses that can draw upon the funds in the trust e.g. food and medical bills. But in general, most people leave a sum to a person with the understanding that this person would use the funds to care for a designated pet.
So a beneficiary does not have to live in the same jurisdiction as you, nor do they have to be a family member or relative. As long as you have taken care of your primary responsibilities, a beneficiary can be any person or any organization in the world. So as always at LegalWills we encourage people to be creative with their legacy as it is an opportunity to do great things.