When A Beneficiary Dies Before Probate Ends

It happens sometimes. An heir at law or a beneficiary under a Last Will survives the decedent, and then dies before the probate administration is complete. What happens to that beneficiary’s share?

The answer is clear, if you take it one step at a time. First, if there was a Last Will naming the beneficiary, you check that Will to see if there was a survival period (usually 90 days or less) that the beneficiary failed to complete. If so, then the Will will always give that beneficiary’s share to someone else, and that will be binding.

If there was no Last Will or if the beneficiary lived past any survival period, then the share of that beneficiary is what lawyers call “vested.” In other words, the beneficiary’s share of the decedent’s estate is now the property of the now-deceased beneficiary’s estate.

Who inherits under the beneficiary’s estate? The answer is the same as if the beneficiary died many years later, after the decedent’s estate was fully administered. First, did the beneficiary leave a Last Will? If not, then who inherits under the “intestate” (no Will) statute where the beneficiary lived? And yes, probate will be needed for the beneficiary, in order to pass to his or her heirs what is yet to come from the estate of the first decedent. It does not happen often, but it happens sometimes, that one estate is a beneficiary of another estate.

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