People with families usually want their estate to pass to their family members, and they use their Will to give effect to that wish. What’s more, if they don’t make a Will, then the estate will pass to specified family members anyway under the rules of intestacy. For more information, search for our article on Avoiding intestacy.
But what if you don't have a family, or if you want to make bequests to people outside the family? Common examples are:
a friend to whom you would like to make a cash present, or a gift of a particular personal possession;
a person who has been employed by you – particularly in your home environment;
if you have no surviving family, and wish a friend or friends to inherit your estate; or
you want to leave something to godchildren who are not family members.
People who are not family members will not benefit from your estate unless they are specifically named as beneficiaries in your Will.
Sometimes, a Will provides for personal possessions to be distributed by Trustees, without specifying individual beneficiaries. A letter of wishes can be used to indicate if you have any particular friends in mind for particular possessions. This would enable you to explain the reasoning behind the gift. However, although Trustees usually carry out your intentions as they appear in a letter of wishes, the letter is not legally binding on them.
In theory it would be possible for you to leave your whole estate to friends even if you have close family or dependants. But a claim could be made against your estate by a family member or dependant for reasonable financial provision to be made for them. For more information, search for our article on Can you disinherit family and dependants?
If a friend owes you money at the time of your death, your Will could include provision for releasing the friend from all or part of the debt. For more information, search for our article on What happens to debt when you die?