I am not sure if I have a misunderstanding about how the will works.

Scenario: Let's suppose I:

  • have accounts in RobinHood, TD Ameritrade and Wells Fargo.
  • then I prepare my will listing all these accounts above.
  • Then I open accounts in Webull, Bank of America and buy a house.

Question: Do I need to update my will to include these new accounts? Or I can write generic and complex terms, like, for instance, "all my assets of any kind go to my brother" or "all my bank accounts money go to my father but brokerage accounts go to my brother"?

  • 3
    All of your bank and investment accounts should let you define beneficiaries. As to generic and complex terms... yes, you can definitely say that some classes of accounts go here, and other classes go there. Law.SE would definitely be a better place to ask, especially since country and state tags are vital.
    – RonJohn
    Jan 8, 2021 at 16:18
  • 1
    In general, your will shouldn't mention specific accounts, precisely because those are subject to change. Instead, you'd leave either specific amounts, or percentages. E.g. "$50,000 to my mistress, the balance divided equally between my children." (Some things like IRAs can be passed outside of wills, by designating a beneficiary.) Then keep an updated record of your various accounts.
    – jamesqf
    Jan 8, 2021 at 19:29

1 Answer 1


In general you use terms that the attorney preparing your will knows how to craft.

Some of your accounts allow you to specify beneficiaries. These designations generally overrule the instructions in the will. This also applies to insurance policies, retirement plans and the like. They generally allow you to specify percentages if there are multiple people who will receive the proceeds.

If you are designating that child 1 and child 2 will split the money in the checking/savings account, don't forget to update the will or account specific beneficiary list after the third child is born. The will/beneficiary list can be written to not require a listing of the children by making it clear that it applies to all the children.

The laws of your country/state may also require that specific accounts be designated for a spouse unless they agree to give up their rights. The lawyer will know the laws.

It is a good idea to review and update the will after marriages, divorces and the like. It prevents surprises many years later when spouse #3 finds out that the bulk of the money is going to spouse #1 and the children of spouse #2.

Many people suggest the creation of a death book, that will designate the important information regarding accounts, policies, and benefits. It can also include the most recent version of the will.

  • 4
    While some may think that a death book is a bit macabre, it's a most helpful for the person settling the estate as well as making sure that all assets are known. Jan 8, 2021 at 18:05
  • 1
    AFAIK, the only reason to designate a specific beneficiary, rather than letting the accounts become part of the estate, is for things like 401k & IRA accounts, where my understanding is that it lets the beneficiary keep some of the favored tax status, e.g. withdrawing the amount over 10 years rather than all at once.
    – jamesqf
    Jan 9, 2021 at 5:11
  • 1
    "It is a good idea to review and update the will after marriages" In the UK, marriage will automatically void an existing will (unless it makes specific reference to the intended marriage) see this link. In the US, according to this link – while it does vary by state – in some states marriage will also invalidate an existing will.
    – TripeHound
    Jan 9, 2021 at 16:02

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