Generally speaking, you should leave a last will and testament if you wish to divide your property among unrelated parties after your death. Of course, a surviving spouse or minor dependent children may be entitled to a portion of your estate by law should they choose to exercise their rights. To avoid challenges to your will, you may opt to deed the property prior to your death to prevent it from passing through probate. Language contained in a last will and testament determines the interest that joint grantees acquire in the property.
Deed Prior to Death
Depending on the level of trust you place in those acquiring the property -- referred to as grantees -- you may choose to deed the property to them prior to your death. If you so desire, you may keep some control over the property by including language in the deed reserving a life estate, meaning the right to live on the property until your death. In a life estate, one grantee may be deeded a larger share or percentage interest in the property over others based on your personal desires. If percentages are not specified, each grantee will acquire an equal undivided interest in the property. Be aware, however, that any gift deed to others prior to your death to avoid payments to creditors may be subject to a court action challenging the conveyance as fraudulent.
Last Will and Testament
If you have several parcels of land or properties, each named beneficiary may inherit her own specified parcel based on language in your will that describes each parcel and name of the individual who will inherit it. If you only have one parcel of land, however, you may leave that property in equal shares to the named non-relative beneficiaries. You also may leave each beneficiary a different percentage interest in the single parcel by designating those percentages in your will. The same holds true when leaving your property to various charities.
An oral agreement may exist between you and your intended beneficiaries as to what separate parcel of real property each will receive. One of your beneficiaries may be expecting to receive your home place, while another the barn and surrounding acreage. Unless this agreement is reduced to writing in the form of deeds or a last will and testament that passes through probate, these intentions may not be carried out or enforced. Statutes of fraud generally require real estate contracts to be in writing.
Issues could arise after leaving equal undivided interests to joint beneficiaries. One or more co-beneficiaries may desire to sell the property against the wishes of the remaining beneficiaries. If an agreement cannot be reached, a court action may result in which a judge orders the property to be split or sold. If the property itself cannot be split equitably, a sale for division may result where the property is auctioned to the public and the proceeds divided between co-owners equally.