What Happens If My Beneficiary Dies Before Me?

A lot of care and consideration goes into the choosing of a beneficiary and the creation of an estate plan. Unfortunately though, things do not always work out as we’ve planned. So you might wonder, “What happens if my beneficiary dies before me?” Who will receive the assets I planned to give to my beneficiary? What if I’m not able to designate a new beneficiary—or I simply forget? We’re here to help. Read on to find out the answer to the question what happens if my beneficiary dies before me?

What Happens If My Beneficiary Dies Before Me?

When you’re creating and updating your estate plan, you’ll probably assume your beneficiaries will outlive you. However, it is not uncommon for a beneficiary to die before the testator (i.e., the person making the will). It is important that you acknowledge this reality and ask, “What happens if my beneficiary dies before me?” If you do this early and work with your attorney, you can create a backup plan. To do this, you will name a contingent beneficiary (a backup), who will become the beneficiary if the original beneficiary dies before you do.  Even if you are much older than your chosen beneficiary, it is always a good idea to be safe and name an alternate.

If you do not name an alternate, the answer to the question “What happens if my beneficiary dies before me?” depends on your state’s succession laws and the construction of the will. Here in Missouri, succession works like this:

First, the anti-lapse statute would come into play. If the beneficiary who passed away was a child, descendant, or collateral relative, the assets designated for the beneficiary would go the beneficiary’s descendants. So if, for example, your beneficiary was your son and your son passed away, his share would go to his children (assuming he had children).

If the anti-lapse law doesn’t apply, the property will either go into the testator’s residuary estate or be gifted to the testator’s heirs. And finally, if these laws do not apply, the property will be divided like this (just as it would be if there were no will):

  • If you die with children but no spouse, your children inherit everything.

  • If you die with a spouse but no children, your spouse inherits everything.

  • If you die with a spouse and children from that spouse, your spouse inherits the first $20,000 of your property and half of the balance. Your children inherit everything else.

  • If you die with a spouse and children from someone other than your spouse, your spouse inherits half of your property and your children inherit the rest.

  • If you die with parents and siblings but no spouse or children, your parents and siblings split your property equally.

  • If you have parents but no spouse, children, or siblings, your parents inherit everything.

  • If you have siblings but no spouse, children, or parents, your siblings inherit everything.

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As always, we recommend you meet regularly with your attorney to update your will and prepare for the unexpected twists and turns life can throw at us.  The plan the state has set about and described above may not be what you want to happen.  Take the initiative and make your own backup plan. Don’t assume you will die before your chosen beneficiary; prepare for the worst and designate an alternate beneficiary.

If you need help creating or updating your estate plan and you live in southwest Missouri, please give the attorneys (R. Clancy Parks and/or Cameron G. Jones) at Parks & Jones a call at 417-823-9898. We would be happy to help.

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