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What Happens if a Named Beneficiary in My Will Dies Before Me?

Posted by Judy Nakashima Shoji | Mar 05, 2021 | 0 Comments

Once you have established your estate plan, it is important to ensure it remains sound by revisiting it at regular intervals or at key life events. One important reason is that if you fail to account for the death of someone named as a beneficiary in your will, upon your death, your estate may face significant problems as a result. Here is what can happen.

If a named beneficiary predeceases you, the bequest can lapse.

Your will may include language such as "I give 50 percent of my estate to my son if he survives me." However, if your son doesn't live longer than you and isn't alive to receive his share, his share will lapse. Your son's 50 percent share legally ceases to exist because he is not alive to accept it.

This would not be an issue if your son were not married or had children at the time of his death. But if he was married and had children, the language "if he survives me" used in your will could prevent his legal heirs from inheriting his share.

If a named beneficiary predeceases you, their share may transfer to the residuary estate.

The residuary estate encompasses all the assets that remain after the specifically devised assets have been distributed and all debts have been paid. In other words, the residuary is what remains after all specific bequests (i.e., specific gifts of money or property to specific parties) have been distributed, and all taxes and debtors' claims are satisfied.

Using the language above, if you gave 50 percent of your estate to your son and the remaining 50 percent to your daughter, your daughter will now inherit 100 percent at the time of your death because your son's shares would have lapsed when he died. Therefore, if your son had children, they would be left out of your will and will not inherit.

When should you update your will?

Chances are, if you live long enough, you will go through several life events that will require you to update your will. To avoid your bequests being distributed in a way you did not intend, you should update your will after a life event to spare your family the pain and frustration that can arise during the probate process.

The list below represents some life events that could necessitate changing or completely overhauling your will?

  • Marriage or divorce
  • The birth or adoption of a new child or grandchild
  • When a child or grandchild becomes an adult
  • When a child or grandchild needs educational funding
  • Death or change in circumstances of the guardian named in your will for minor children
  • Changes in your number of dependents, such as the addition of caring for an adult
  • Change in your or your spouse's financial or other goals
  • Illness or disability of your spouse
  • Change in your life or long-term care insurance coverage
  • If any family member passes away, becomes ill, or becomes disabled
  • Death or change in circumstance of your personal representative, guardian, or trustee nominated in your will

Reviewing and updating your plan at regular intervals and major life events can help ensure your estate is passed on per your wishes and that your beneficiaries receive their benefits in a smooth and timely manner.

Give us a call today to review your existing estate plan or create a new one. Doing so can ensure your wishes will be as clear and unambiguous upon your death as you intended them to be during your life.

About the Author

Judy Nakashima Shoji

Judy prides herself on being approachable, down to earth and willing to answer any questions hr clients may have. She is a Seattle native. She attended the University of Washington, Tokyo University and Seattle University School of Law. She was a legal intern in the Civil Division of the Seattle City Attorney's Office and at Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance Company located in Shinjuku, Japan. Judy advises clients in all aspects of estate planning, probate and adoptions. She also serves as a Title 11 court appointed investigator in guardianship cases for King County Superior Court. She cannot think of any areas in which she would rather practice. She invests in learning about her client's whole story which creates a friendly environment in which she can provide more effective assistance. Her goal is for her estate planning clients to walk away with a customized, detailed, realistic, and clear estate plan which will accomplish their wishes. Estate planning can be uncomfortable and confusing and her goal is to explain complicated legal options in a way that is easy to understand and clear. Her desire is to provide peace of mind and clarity for her clients while also giving them the information necessary to make well informed decision. Judy has been a member of the Elder Law and Real Property and Trust sections of the Washington State Bar Association and King County Bar Association. She has been a volunteer attorney with the King County Bar Association Neighborhood Clinic and Pro Bono Services for the past 14 years where she was recognized as volunteer of the month in October 2014. Judy is married with three children. Outside of work she enjoys traveling to sunny locations, exercising (HIIT and barbell classes keep her grounded) and spending time with the people (and animals) she loves.

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