What happens if the Beneficiary of a Will Changes their Name?
02 November 2018
As long as the Beneficiary is easily identifiable, they will still be able to receive any gift that has been left to them in the Will even if they change their name. For this reason, it's really important to be absolutely clear about who intended Beneficiaries are when you make a Will.
Why Might a Beneficiary Change Their Name?
As people go through life, they may change their name for any number of reasons. Many men and women adopt their spouse's surname or merge their two names together when they marry, for example. Others may choose to revert to their maiden name upon divorce. When someone transitions gender then they might adopt a new name that aligns with their gender. These are just a few examples, but there are many other situations in which someone might decide to change their first name, their surname or both.
If someone has been named as a Beneficiary in a Will under their previous name, then this doesn't automatically invalidate their entitlement to that gift, however it will need to be absolutely clear that they are the intended Beneficiary.
Make Sure Your Will Is Clear
To avoid any doubt or uncertainty after you die, it's essential that you are absolutely clear when naming Beneficiaries in your Will. This is one of the dangers of a DIY Will and one of many reasons why we would always recommend that you seek professional advice when making a Will.
An experienced Will Writer will be able to word your Will in a way that makes it clear who the intended Beneficiary is. It's important that this is sufficiently descriptive without becoming overly complicated. This could mean including the Beneficiary's address, for example, their date of birth, or their relationship to you.
If the description of the Beneficiary is not clear, and they then change their name, then this can cause real issues for your Executor after you die. In order to distribute your Estate, the Executor will need to be absolutely certain of the identity of each Beneficiary.
If a Beneficiary has changed their name, another potential issue is that they could be difficult to find. For more information on what happens in this situation, see Searching for Missing Beneficiaries during Probate.
Even if a Beneficiary has not changed their name, a misspelling on the Will could also cause it to be misinterpreted. Again, it will need to be absolutely clear who the intended Beneficiary is and if this isn't the case, then a simple typo could cause a lot of trouble when misconstrued.
Proving the Beneficiary's Entitlement
If the Will is unclear as to who the intended Beneficiary is, then it may be necessary for the person claiming to be the Beneficiary to provide evidence of their entitlement. Again, providing that the Will is sufficiently descriptive then this should be relatively straight forward.
For example, if the Will refers to "My son, Joseph" then the Beneficiary's birth certificate may be sufficient to satisfy the Executor. Similarly, proof of address could be used to prove the identity of the Beneficiary if this detail has been included in the Will. Depending on the circumstances, a copy of the deed poll might also be sufficient.
Where these additional details have been omitted from the Will, proving the Beneficiary's entitlement could be more difficult. Say, for example, you wanted to leave £5,000 each to your nephews Alex and Ben and in your will describe the gift as "£10,000 to my nephews." On the face of it, this gift appears fairly straightforward. However, what if the Beneficiaries were actually the sons of your spouse's sibling instead?
From a legal perspective, the term "my nephews" would refer to the sons of your siblings, so without specific reference to Alex and Ben's name the gift would not take effect as intended. The correct approach would be refer to those Beneficiaries as "my spouse's nephews" and also name them. Then if either Ben or Alex were to change their name in the future, there is a greater chance of them still being correctly identified.
Getting it Right
You can make sure that your Will is absolutely clear by instructing a professional Will Writing firm, such as Co-op Legal Services. Our experienced Will Writers know exactly how to word your Will to avoid any ambiguity when the time comes, even if a Beneficiary changes their name in the future.
We can discuss your individual circumstances in detail and draft a Will that is specifically tailored to your needs, taking into account all possible eventualities.