Just about every American is looking forward to 2021. This year has been rough, but a better future could lie in store. For a handful of stocks, next year could be extra special.

There are currently more than 60 stocks that qualify as Dividend Aristocrats. These stocks are members of the S&P 500 that have increased their dividends for at least 25 consecutive years. There's an even more exclusive club than Dividend Aristocrats, though. The Dividend Kings designation includes S&P 500 members with 50 or more consecutive years of dividend hikes. Here are three current Dividend Aristocrats likely to become Dividend Kings in 2021.

A gold crown on top of stacks of cash

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Leggett & Platt

Leggett & Platt (NYSE:LEG) stands at the threshold of Dividend King status. The company raised its dividend by 5.3% in February 2020, its 49th consecutive year of dividend hikes. Can Leggett & Platt add another year to its track record? Probably.

The leading manufacturer of bedding-related products, auto seat systems, and furniture components reported record earnings per share and cash flow in the third quarter of 2020. This strong performance came despite headwinds from the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic could end in 2021 if coronavirus vaccines become available, and Leggett & Platt's business might pick up even more next year accordingly. 

2. Target

Target (NYSE:TGT) appears on target (pun fully intended) to reach the magic 50-year mark of consecutive dividend increases by mid-2021. The retail giant increased its dividend for the 49th year in a row in June. Target's fourth-quarter dividend was its 213th consecutive dividend paid, a streak that began in Oct. 1967 when the company listed its shares on a public stock exchange. 

The company should easily join the ranks of the current Dividend Kings next year. Target posted exceptionally strong Q3 results, with its adjusted earnings per share more than doubling year over year. Momentum seems likely to continue into 2021, especially with the company's recent deal with Ulta Beauty to launch a "shop-in-shop" concept that will bring Ulta's products to more than 100 Target stores.

3. W.W. Grainger

W.W. Grainger (NYSE:GWW) increased its dividend by 6% in July 2020, marking the company's 49th consecutive year of dividend hikes. There are plenty of reasons to think Grainger will keep that streak going.

The company ranks as the leading supplier of maintenance, repair, and operating products -- including abrasives, fasteners, cleaning supplies, motors, and tools -- in North America. Grainger claims a market share of 6% in the U.S. and 4% globally. It continues to deliver solid, if not spectacular, revenue and earnings growth that should enable the company to wear a Dividend King crown next year. 

King-size dividend yields?

Just because a stock is a Dividend King doesn't necessarily mean that it offers king-sized dividend yields. That's true for the group likely to graduate to Dividend King status next year.

Grainger and Target certainly have impressive track records of dividend increases. However, both companies' dividend yields stand at around 1.5%. That's below the average S&P 500 member. Leggett & Platt, on the other hand, is more likely to please income-seeking investors with its dividend yield of 3.7%. 

However, it's important to remember that dividends aren't everything. Poor stock performance can more than offset any dividends paid out. Shares of Leggett & Platt, for example, are down by a double-digit percentage so far this year. Most investors would prefer the big gains of 20% and 36% provided by Grainger and Target, respectively, even though the companies' dividend yields are well below Leggett & Platt's.

These three companies are likely to join the upper echelon of dividend royalty in 2021. But it's up to each investor as to which stocks deserve to wear a crown in their personal portfolios. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.