For updated COVID-19 precautions and FAQs, please click here for more information.

Modern Estate Planning Blog

Elder Law & Special Needs Planning

Folsom Probate Lawyer: What Happens If Your Child Dies Before You?

July 13, 2018

The majority of people we see in our Folsom estate planning law firm name their adult children as beneficiaries of their estate plan. In most cases, this works well because children typically outlive their parents. But, what happens when a child dies before the parent? What becomes of the inheritance that a parent plans to leave behind?

The answer depends on whether or not you have a will or trust in place.

When You Don’t Have A Will or Trust

If you do not have a will or trust in place, then you don’t have control of what happens to your assets if a child dies before you do.  Your estate will go into Sacramento County probate when you die, and the state of California will decide how to divide the assets that would have gone to your child. The courts will name your “heirs at law,” which typically pass those assets down to your closest blood relatives.

When You Have an Estate Plan

If you have a will and/or trust, then you have named beneficiaries.  If one of the beneficiaries was a child who passed away, you’ll need to update your plan to name someone else who can inherit his or her assets. If you do not name alternative beneficiaries, when you die, that portion of your estate will go through Sacramento probate as though you had no plan in place at all. Again, the courts will decide who will receive the inheritance that was meant for an heir that has already passed away.

Fortunately, when you work with a qualified and experienced estate planning attorney, he or she will help you to name alternative beneficiaries from the start.  Think about alternative beneficiaries as being your “Plan B” option. If something happens to your chosen beneficiary, or if your beneficiary simply declines to take their inheritance (hey, it happens) there will already be someone else named of your choosing who would inherit those assets.  This ensures you keep control and the state never chooses where your assets will go.

Sadly, we’ve seen many estate plans created by less experienced attorneys where the issue of naming alternative beneficiaries was overlooked. In these cases, the “heirs at law” rule will be used to determine who will receive the assets. There are some people who choose this route. But, if you want more control over who inherits from you, be sure to work with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney.

If you need assistance, we invite you to contact our Folsom Probate and Estate Planning Law Firm at (916) 241-9661 to schedule a consultation.

Free Resources


I was absolutely without a clue as to how to begin or what I should do to establish an estate plan. I did know that I wanted someone I could trust, that was honest and I would have confidence in. I was referred to Heather by my friend who was being legally advised by Heather on another estate. She was very satisfied with her work and thought I might be happy with her service. At our consultation appointment, her presentation was very thorough. I had lots of questions, and she was easy to talk to and was able to guide me to just the kind of estate plan I needed. That was 10 years ago. Due to circumstances in my life, I have had to make changes to my plan, and I always go back to her for her legal services and guidance. I have recommended Heather before.

As Seen On