What Happens if a Beneficiary to a Will Dies?
The process of estate planning rests on numerous assumptions. Key amongst these assumptions is the notion that the beneficiaries of your will are going to outlive you. While it is probable that your heirs will still be around when you pass, particularly if they are younger than you are, there is always a possibility that someone you have named in your will may not survive you.
Although this kind of event is unpleasant to consider, it is crucial to recognize how inheritance works under such conditions according to Texas law. Understanding the various potential outcomes of a situation like this can help you to ensure that your estate plan is as thorough and straightforward as possible.
Texas Survival Requirements
According to the Texas Estates Code, a beneficiary of a will must survive the person who made it (the testator) by five days to inherit property. The property will therefore pass in this fashion by default unless the testator’s will contains language that:
- Addresses simultaneous deaths or deaths in a common disaster, or
- Specifies that a beneficiary must survive the testator for a certain period to inherit the property in question.
Most estate planning attorneys recommend that their clients’ wills include survivorship language requiring a beneficiary to survive for a longer time, such as 30 or 60 days if they are to inherit under the will. The reason for this is that if a beneficiary dies soon after the testator, the testator’s estate may pass according to the wishes outlined in the beneficiary’s will rather than that of the original testator themselves.
For example, if your will stipulates that your home is to be passed to your nephew after your death, your nephew will inherit your home even if he survived you by just a few days. Upon his death, even though it is only days after yours, the house would pass to your nephew’s heirs according to his estate plan, even if you would have preferred to have it pass to a younger niece instead.
On the other hand, if you include language in your will that any beneficiary who dies within a short time of your own death will not be eligible to inherit, your own wishes for your property would determine how it would pass. In the absence of this language, according to Texas law, any beneficiary can inherit if they outlive you by five days.
A good estate planning attorney will advise you to name a contingent beneficiary to whom the property will pass in the event that the primary beneficiary does not survive your death or that they die before the stipulated survival period is complete. For example, you could name your niece as a contingent beneficiary of your home if your nephew does not survive you for the required number of days.
If a will does not name a contingent beneficiary, or if the contingent beneficiary is deemed to have predeceased the testator, the gift will have “lapsed” or failed. The distribution of lapsed gifts is determined by Texas state law.
A will may contain language stipulating that any lapsed gift will become part of the residuary estate. Even in the absence of this language, the Texas Estates Code instructs that lapsed gifts will pass to the parties the testator’s will named as the residuary benefits of the estate.
The law also states that if there are multiple residual beneficiaries named in the will and one of them predeceases the testator, the deceased beneficiary’s share shall pass to the surviving residuary beneficiaries in a manner proportionate to their interest in the residuary estate. If there are three residuary beneficiaries, and one dies, the deceased beneficiary’s share of the residuary estate will be split 50-50 between the surviving two.
The residuary estate will pass as though the testator died without the will in the event that all residuary beneficiaries:
- Are dead when the will is executed,
- Do not survive the testator, or
- Do not survive the testator for the amount of time stipulated in the will.
Contact an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney
Planning how your estate will be distributed upon your passing can feel overwhelming, especially when considering the various eventualities, no matter how improbable. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you navigate all these complications so that you can have confidence in your plan. The Dallas estate planning attorneys of Staubus and Randall have the knowledge and skills necessary to guide you through the process so that you’ll know your wishes will be fulfilled.
Call us today at 214-691-3411 or contact us online for a free consultation.