Anyone, married or unmarried, may be a co-owner of certain possessions, and this co-ownership can limit your right to give something away in your will. Read the fine print on your deeds and titles. When two or more co-owners are named on the document, and it states that the property is held in joint tenancy, then the asset-whether it's money in a bank account, a car, or a house-will go directly to the surviving owner or owners upon your death-even if the deceased tries to give his interest to someone else in his will. That's because a joint tenancy automatically carries what is known as a right of survivorship. If the property is held this way by spouses, it will usually pass to the survivor free of gift or estate tax.
Tenancy in common, on the other hand, allows you to sell your share or leave it in a will without the consent of the others. If you die without a will, your share goes not to the other owners, but to your heirs.
It's important to remember that either form of ownership can sometimes be overridden by community property laws and other forms of spousal rights. In other words, when Gordon's brother Jim dies, Jim's widow might be able to claim an interest in the beach house, though she's not named in the will or on any deed.
There are several ways to divide up your tangible personal property, which is anything other than real estate or money, and includes such things as furniture, cars, jewelry, china, and so on. You can:
Typically, a will contains a clause saying something like, "I give my car to Henry, my boat to Ellen, and the balance of my tangible personal property to George." In that case, George gets any items which haven't been given away under more specific provisions. If the will doesn't have such a general clause, the items go to the person named as residuary legatee.
It depends on what the will says. As noted, it's always a good idea when writing a will to name alternative beneficiaries. This and other key phrases can guide an executor to, in effect, fulfill a deceased's plan B if plan A doesn't work. Basically, though, they direct that a bequest to a predeceasing beneficiary pass to his or her heirs.
That's probably tough luck for the person named as the beneficiary. In most cases, he or she would get nothing.
It is almost certain that the value of financial accounts will change over time, and thus can't be specified in a will. You can deal with this two ways. First, you could have a specific amount set aside for one person, and have the balance go into the residuary estate to be divided according to other directions you leave. Or, you can specify how much each person will get. In that case, the funds will be distributed proportionately.