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What Happens if a Beneficiary to a Will Dies?

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.

Contingent Beneficiaries

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.

Lapsed Gifts

What Happens if a Beneficiary to a Will DiesIf 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 litigation 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 to schedule a consultation.

The Firm

The attorneys at Staubus and Randall have over 100 years of combined experience in estate planning, probate, and litigation. We have the knowledge and skills to tackle complex legal issues, such as guardianships, will contests, fiduciary litigation, and trust litigation. We can also handle routine matters, such as estate administration, probating wills, heirship determinations, and other probate court matters.

Staubus and Randall received a preeminent AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating possible from a peer-rated legal service. This rating recognizes our hard work, dedication, and the case results we’re able to achieve.

Staubus & Randall Team

What Our Clients Say

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"Before retaining the guidance of the Staubus & Randall firm, I was at my wit's end trying to close an uncle's estate as a co-executor. In addition to dealing with difficult heirs, I had other pressing business issues coming up immediately on estate land in the middle of the Eagleford Shale including dealings with pipeline, seismic, oil & gas, and construction companies. The local bank also refused to give me access to information relating to the estate. This quickly became the most stressful and desperate time in my life...and then I found Joseph Legere who truly became my guardian angel. He was able to get all issues resolved efficiently and the estate fully closed. His professionalism, immense legal knowledge on a wide variety of topics, and amazing communication skills took the burdens off of me and quickly got closure. I am forever indebted to this firm for giving me my life back."


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"Keith Staubus and Julie Blankenship and their team represented me in a jury trial in the probate court where the ownership of the business which I had worked hard to build was at stake. They successfully fought to preserve my business and my professional reputation, working masterfully to gain the support of the jury. I would not hesitate to hire them again in any bet-the-company litigation.”


"I have required legal representation twice in my life in two separate will contests. Both times I sought assistance from Keith Staubus and Staubus/Randall. Their service, approach, and determination to obtain results exceeded the other attorneys in each case. Mr. Staubus has always come across as genuine while being direct. He gets the process done in a timely manner with results. I will certainly use him again when and if any new challenges arise.”

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