If person A wants to leave assets to person B in their will, what is the minimum amount of information for person B that person A needs to specify?

Obviously, they need their name... but is anything else required?

Do they need their:

  1. Mailing address?
  2. Physical address?
  3. Telephone number?
  4. Birthdate?
  5. Birthplace?
  6. Social Security Number?
  7. Spouse's name?

I'm sure more information is better, but I'm interested in learning the minimum required.

  • 2
    I'm not sure that even the name is necessary. There's a story about a will that consisted only of three words, "All to wife", which was held to be valid. I would assume that if the court can figure out who you meant, and be reasonably certain of it given the circumstances, then they'll honor it. Commented May 25, 2018 at 6:17
  • Note that wills in the US are handled under state law, not federal, so if you want a specific answer you should specify what state you are interested in, and add the corresponding tag. Commented May 25, 2018 at 6:19
  • "All to my wife" would be interesting if the dead person was married, then divorced, then remarried. And it's unknown when the will was written.
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 25, 2018 at 21:03
  • In the English case Thorn v. Dickens [1906] W.N. 54 the will consisted of the words "all for mother". In fact the deceased's mother had predeceased him. The court allowed in extrinsic evidence to show that "mother" in fact referred to the deceased's widow. Commented Apr 14 at 3:08

2 Answers 2


Actually, a name isn’t required.

What is required are sufficient particulars to identify a unique individual.

For example, “my son” is adequate where the testator has only one son. Conversely, “John Smith” may be inadequate; the executor may need to look to the context of the testator’s life to identify the particular “John Smith” and even then may struggle if the testator had several acquaintances of that name.

Best practice is to give as much unchanging information as is needed. For example, “My son John Smith (DOB: 23 May 1968)”.

  • Indeed, estate plans routinely have names for beneficiaries that are no longer correct, usually due to changing names upon marriage, and that is rarely a problem.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented May 25, 2018 at 19:28

If you mean 'the minimum required for a will to be legal' then (depending slightly on jurisdiction) the answer is "scarcely anything". Even Dale's example of "to my son" where the testator has several sons would still be granted probate; the executor would face a nightmare trying to determine which son was intended, and would almost certainly have to go to court for approval, which would eat up a lot of the estate. If there wasn't enough to pay for a court case, the sons would have to agree a fair distribution, or else the estate remain undistributed.

Which means a more helpful answer is "enough to allow the executors to identify the legatee, perhaps many years after the will is drawn up". I have seen many wills proved leaving money to "John Smith of 99 Acacia Avenue", even if he has since moved; unless another John Smith has since moved in...

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