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Modern Estate Planning Blog

Elder Law & Special Needs Planning

Sacramento Probate Lawyer Answers, ‘What Happens If My Beneficiary Dies Before I Do?’

December 31, 2010

As a Sacramento probate attorney, one of the most important things I help clients determine is who they want to be the beneficiaries of their estate when they pass away. While this may seem like an easy decision, the process can get quite complicated if you have specific assets that you’d like to leave to very specific individuals.

For example, you may want to split things up and leave your house to your oldest child, an expensive jewelry collection to a niece, journals and memoirs to a granddaughter and a modest financial gift to your favorite charitable organization. On the other hand, you may want to make it easy and just leave everything to your spouse or one specific person upon your passing.

In either case, have you thought about what would happen if any of your chosen beneficiaries were no longer living at the time of your death?

I can tell you in my experience as a Sacramento probate attorney that may people don’t, and this oversight easily opens the door for unnecessary complications and headaches later down the road (which again is why DIY wills are so dangerous—it often takes an attorney to point out things you should be adding to your estate plan for maximum protection).

Fortunately there is an easy solution to this, and that is naming alternative beneficiaries to inherit the assets that comprise your estate.

So let’s say for example that you want to leave a piece of property to a very close family friend, Mary. She would be your designated beneficiary of that asset. You would then name an alternative beneficiary in the event Mary dies before you do. In this case you may choose to leave the property to your nephew Bob if Mary is no longer alive to inherit the asset.

As you can see, this clears up any confusion and will ensure your inheritance does not wind up in the hands of someone you would never want to have it if your original beneficiary predeceases you.

I realize many people avoid taking this extra step to name alternative beneficiaries because it can be painful to think about. This is especially true for parents who want to leave everything to their children and can’t bear the thought of a child dying before them.

As a parent myself, I certainly understand and sympathize with this fear, but it’s also important to remember that you are doing your surviving heirs a huge favor by dealing with this issue so they don’t have to. You don’t want a judge who doesn’t know you or your family deciding what to do with the property or assets in question, and that is exactly what could happen if you don’t name someone else in the alternative.

So if you have a will that does not name alternative beneficiaries in the event your chosen beneficiary precedes you in death, I suggest you to meet with a Sacramento probate lawyer to discuss how to update your estate planning documents. By simply mentioning this article, you can come in for a Peace of Mind Planning Session (normally $750) free of charge at our Gold River office. Simply call (916) 241-9661 to reserve your spot.

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Very professional, comprehensive service and extremely valuable. Heather and her team are very knowledgeable and we feel they have our best interests at heart. They make uncomfortable decision conversations possible and manageable. Working with Heather we were able to focus our attention on important issues that we questioned or purposely avoided for too long. Now that these questions are answered and our family is covered, it's a wonderful feeling.

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