What happens if death of beneficiary occurs before an estate is settled?

A fellow caregiver asked...

What happens if death of beneficiary occurs before an estate is settled?

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

The important thing to pay attention to is the gap of time between when the willmaker died and when the beneficiary died. That is what will help determine who gets the property left to the beneficiary who died.

Sometimes, the will itself points out the answer. Many wills state that beneficiaries cannot take property under a will unless they live for a stated “survivorship period”—which commonly ranges up to 60 days. If the will doesn’t have a survivorship period, the laws in about half the states impose one of five days. If neither the will nor state law imposes a survivorship period, then the property can go to the named beneficiary, even if he or she survives only an hour longer than the willmaker.
The property that goes to the deceased beneficiary in any of these ways will become part of his or her estate, and be distributed according to individual will instructions, or if there is no will, then under the laws of intestate succession, which generally specify that the property goes to the closest relatives.

There is an exception to all this for property that is given to a group of people—for example, a house designated for four named takers. In such cases, the deceased beneficiary’s share is usually divided among the other named takers.