Do we need to name all our nieces and nephews as beneficiaries?

Do you need to name all nieces and nephews as beneficiaries in a will?

And if Elizabeth doesn’t name them all, will those left out contest the will?

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Q. We have no children or dependents. We do have numerous nieces and nephews. Are there dangers in not naming all of them for inheritance purposes? We have little or no relationship with some and very close relationships with others. We worry that not including family members could result in the will being contested and we want to avoid this. It would be a substantial estate.

—Elizabeth

A. Dear Elizabeth, you must satisfy all your legal and moral obligations in your will. After that, you have testamentary freedom when making your will. You’re free to distribute your estate as you choose.

You need not include every niece and nephew in your will. There is no danger in not naming all of them provided they have no claims to your estate. You may choose to leave all of your estate to any niece or nephew, or as many as you wish. You should specifically name them in your will. “To all my nieces and nephews” is not specific enough to avoid trouble. Nor is this an easily identified group.

You ask if excluded nieces and nephews can contest your will. Generally, persons who can contest wills are those named in the will as well as those claiming:

  1. Any impropriety in the making of the will
  2. You had breached promises to them that could be enforced
  3. They were being supported by you
  4. They would inherit on an intestacy or if there is no valid will

You did not mention if your nieces or nephews have any claims to your estate. If you are not directly or indirectly supporting them, then they may not be entitled to a share in your estate.

You said it was a substantial estate and you are concerned. Your will lawyer can advise you about specific potential risks from any excluded individual niece or nephew. Your reasons can be documented in case there is a problem later.

Ed Olkovich is a Toronto lawyer and certified specialist in Estate and Trusts Law

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