What Happens if a Will Beneficiary Passes Away Before Inheriting?

What Happens if a Will Beneficiary Passes Away Before Inheriting?

During the estate administration process, the personal representative might discover that a named beneficiary under the will, predeceased the testator.

What happens next depends on what is written in the will. The testator may name a contingent beneficiary, in which case that person would inherit. But if there’s no alternate beneficiary, the property might go to:

  • A residuary beneficiary (a person or entity that inherits the assets not otherwise specifically devised in the will)
  • The descendants of the primary beneficiary in accordance with state law
  • The heirs of the deceased in accordance with state laws for intestate succession

Almost every state in the nation has an “anti-lapse” law, meant to give an educated guess as to the testator’s wishes when a gift in a will cannot be made to the specific person listed. Unless there is survivorship language in the devise, some anti-lapse laws prioritize the children of the deceased, if any exist.

However, these anti-lapse laws only apply if the deceased beneficiary was either the grandparent or direct descendant of a grandparent of the testator (including a parent, sibling, niece, nephew, aunt, uncle or cousin). These laws do not apply if the beneficiary was not a blood relative. In such a case, the gift would go to the residue clause under the will or if none to the heirs of the testator.

Ultimately, naming contingent beneficiaries in the will is best practice to avoid a scenario where the court determines who is entitled to such devise under the will.

For more information about how best to structure your will, contact an experienced Tampa, FL estate planning lawyer at BaumannKangas Estate Law.