estate planning attorney with client

What if My Primary Beneficiary Predeceases Me?

This question can be a troubling one. Although the odds are in your favor that your wishes will be able to be carried out as stated in your will and/or established in your trust(s), there is always the rare but real possibility that the person you intended to leave your worldly goods will predecease you. At Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., our clients in Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod often want to understand how to handle this potential predicament.

Our will and trust attorneys will work with you to make sure that your estate planning documents are as comprehensive as possible and that we have covered all the bases. In other words, bring any questions that keep you up at night to us and we will put your mind to rest.

Primary and Contingent Beneficiaries

In most cases, the person planning their estate designates one or more contingent beneficiaries as well as a primary one. For example, if your primary beneficiary is your daughter, your grandchildren may be contingent (“second in line”) beneficiaries. 

The primary beneficiary is first on the list to inherit; the contingent beneficiary will inherit if the primary beneficiary is deceased. You should be aware that a primary or contingent beneficiary can be an educational or charitable institution or a medical or research center as well as an individual. 

Proactive Steps to Take to Avoid a Problem if a Beneficiary Predeceases You

Our experienced will and trust attorneys will help you to create an estate plan that takes various scenarios into account. Though no one likes to consider the possibility, if you have several offspring, one may predecease you. There are a few ways to handle this painful situation and you should consider them all hypothetically. 


One way to deal with the loss of a primary beneficiary is to set up your will so that the inheritance of that child “lapses,” and your estate will be divided between the remaining children. The other way to handle this tragic situation is to state that the deceased child’s portion of your estate will pass per stirpes

Per Stirpes

Per stirpes in Latin means “by branch” as in the branch of your family tree. As a legal term in English, it means that the portion that would have gone to the child who died will automatically go to that individual’s descendants in equal portions. If your primary beneficiary has no descendants (children, grandchildren) at the time of your death, your inheritance will “lapse” as previously described.

Alternate Beneficiaries 

Another option is to name alternative beneficiaries in your will or trust. This allows you the discretion to name many different beneficiaries and to determine the order in which they should inherit.  

What happens if all my beneficiaries are killed in the same horrifying accident?

Though very rare, this horrible scenario does occasionally happen, usually as a result of a catastrophic car or airplane accident. In order to make provisions for such a disaster, the testator can create a “common disaster distribution” plan. 

This clause offers an alternative to all named beneficiaries if all should be lost in the same tragic event. Most commonly, one of two choices is made. Either the testator states that under such circumstances the inheritance should go to their closest living relatives (“heirs in law”) or that the estate should be donated to a charitable or other worthy organization as described earlier.

As you can see, unexpected complications can arise when an estate is planned or when the estate plan is executed. That’s why it’s critical to have a knowledgeable, detail-oriented, empathic attorney guiding you when you plan your estate.

Contact Our Experienced Will & Trust Attorneys Today

Make sure your estate plan is complete and well-worded. The lawyers at Surprenant & Beneski have a proud history of helping clients enjoy their retirement and provide for those they love. The sooner you contact us, the sooner we will begin assisting you in preparing for your future.