What Can Be Put Into A Will?

Your will may include any property and assets that you are legally allowed to give away. The type of property that you can give away in your will includes:

  • Money, stocks, bonds, coins and stamp collections;
  • Real estate and houses;
  • Furniture, artwork, books, appliances, or anything else in your house or houses;
  • Personal papers, personal items, including your pets (which are considered personal property);
  • Cars and other vehicles;
  • Future interests in property—that is, something that you don’t own now, but you have a right to own in the future. You can leave your future right to own the property or asset;
  • Jewelry—when leaving personal items, make sure that the items are fully described in detail, so there is no confusion between different pieces of jewelry.  For example, fully describe the gems, the arrangement, the watch manufacturer and any serial numbers, etc.

Who Can Receive Property from Your Will?

In your will, you may leave your money and property to any person or institution that can receive and hold property, including:

  • Persons who are living or not born yet;
  • A charity or other organization;
  • A person or organization for the benefit of your pet; or
  • Persons who will use the property only for that person’s lifetime, and then it will go to someone else.

There are limits to your right to give away certain property that you own, including:

  • You cannot “disinherit” your spouse: If you are married when you die, your spouse has the right to receive $50,000 or one-third of your estate, whichever is greater. If your estate is less than $50,000, then your spouse has the right to receive the value of your estate. This is true even if you write in your will that you are leaving nothing to your spouse. In your will, you may leave your spouse more than $50,000 or one-third of your estate and your spouse can choose to take what you left in the will instead of the legal minimum.
  • Jointly-owned property does not pass by ill: If you own property jointly with your spouse or with anyone else, your legal interest passes to the joint owner(s). You may not give that property to someone else by your will.
  • Reserved household items: If you are married when you die and/or have children under the age of 21, your will may not give away many household items (including one vehicle) up to a certain dollar value.
  • Accounts that have named a specific beneficiary: Some assets, like the money from joint bank accounts, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, like 401k and IRA’s, and other accounts with a named beneficiary, cannot be distributed by your will. Controlling your money forever: You cannot control your money and property for all time, like leaving any or all of your estate to a person who will be born many years after your death. This is called the “rule against perpetuities.”
  • Minors: The will may have to include a “trust” within the document if a minor is to receive assets under the will and, in addition, a trustee will have to be nominated within the will in addition to the executor.

Legal Editor: Gary Elias, March 2015 (updated July 2020)

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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