Inheritance and Property Rights/beneficiary


QUESTION: I don't have a will, but designated a charity to be my sole beneficiary of my money (the financial institution where I have my assets has this on file). If a family member were to contest this after I die, would they be able to claim my assets as an inheritance? Thanks

ANSWER: This would work as a matter of contract between you and the financial institutions, but only as to those assets;  if you have real estate, motor vehicles, etc then if you don't have a will, the State of Colorado has one for you and whatever isn't covered by the bank "pay on death" arrangement would have to go through probate.

Nothing to making a will -- you can write one out -- not any part being printed off a computer/typewriter; 100% in your handwriting, dated that says

it's your will; you revoke all prior wills;  here's what's to happen when I die;  here's who gets what;  "the residue goes to" meaning anything else not specified -- and you can just say "residue to charity x" if you want without mentioning any other gifts;

who's to be in charge (executor of the will), whether or not you waive a bond of them, (bond is in case they steal the money, whoever was supposed to get it gets it from the bonding co)

and second and third choices for who the executor is;  AND you can just say the charity x shall appoint an executor.

Anyone who contests this will gets nothing.  Signed <you>

Entirely in your handwriting -- no witnesses needed -- it's called a "holographic" will;  in some states your handwriting has to be authenticated (proven) by someone familiar with your writing -- as someone who has gotten letters or writings from you in the past -- pretty easy standard;  so you might mention in the will who would be familiar with your handwriting.

If you have children, you Must name them -- not leave them anything, but put their names down;  you can say I intentionally am not providing for my children.  That's that.

It wouldn't be a bad idea to do this "just in case" and deposit it with the charity to be opened upon your death;  and with one or two other people you trust....

I hope this helps.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you much, that helps a lot. I didn't know about the holographic will. One issue for me is I have no one to be executor. But I have no real estate or property to deal with, so
all of my money would go to the charity (in this case, 'PETA'). You said that the charity can appoint an executor. I will talk to them about it, but do you think they would have someone to do that?  If not, doesn't seem like a will would do much good with no one to administer it, and the charity would still get my donation since they are listed as beneficiary. And, I have no children but two nieces. Do I need to name them, even though I'm not leaving them anything? Thanks

Thanks for the clarification. First, you should state that you have no children, natural or adopted in the document -- no need to name the niece/nephews etc -- just children have to be referenced or an absence of them.

As for the executor -- consider that this will probably won't need to be used as there is no non-financial institution property to deal with -- but in case there is you can just say "I leave the residue of my estate to x charity" and that covers everything -- more of a safeguard for them in case something does need to go through probate -- such as if you win a raffle on a new car or some such.  

It is only a safety net in your case but I'd still do it.  Now who to drive the bus?  You can name the current president, then vice-president, then treasurer of the charity as they hold office today;  by name;  I would just refer to president of the charity who is Joe Jones, by name only, not position, with his address as that of the charity;  same with the others;  and put in there "if Joe declines to serve or is unable to serve, then <next name);  and if that person is unable to serve then <next name).:

Now if it turns out that no one you have named is willing to serve, then state that "charity x in such case may appoint an administrator of the will by means of a notarized appointment signed by the then-serving president"   so all bases are covered in the unlikely event that probate of something is required.

I hope this clarification helps. Be sure with a cover letter to the will you state who would be familiar with your handwriting (such as people at your financial institution) in case that information is needed to prove the will.

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Probate estate and trust questions regarding California and Arizona estates.


I've been practicing real estate, probate estate and trust law in California since 1985 and in Arizona since 2005. I do NOT do homework questions. I am unable to advise on questions involving the laws of other states.

Arizona and California State Bar Associations and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Business degree from the University of New Mexico Juris Doctorate from Lincoln Law School of Sacramento, CA

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