What happens if a beneficiary dies before the estate has been settled?
Dad died before we could start the application for probate for Mom’s estate. What happens to his share of Mom’s estate?
When a beneficiary dies after the deceased but before the estate is settled, the first step is to look at the will.
When the beneficiary dies shortly after the deceased
Most wills have a survival clause. This type of clause will say how many days a beneficiary needs to survive the will-maker in order to keep being entitled to their inheritance. A typical period of time is 30 days.
If the will doesn’t have a survival clause, then the law kicks in with a five-day survival period.
When a beneficiary dies within the survival period, the law will apply as if they had died before the deceased person. This law says how that beneficiary's share should be distributed. Here we explain in more detail who a deceased beneficiary’s share should go to if they pass away before the will-maker, which also applies when a beneficiary dies within the survival period.
When the survival rules don’t apply
When the beneficiary lives beyond the survival period, you’ll need to look at what the will says to figure out who should get the beneficiary’s share. For example, a will may say that the beneficiary receives a gift only if they survive a certain other person. In such a case, the beneficiary’s gift may lapse and be distributed to other beneficiaries.
Unless the will says otherwise, the beneficiary's share of the estate usually passes to the beneficiary’s estate. That is, the gift to the beneficiary would become part of the beneficiary's estate. In turn, the beneficiary’s estate should be distributed according to their will. Or, if they didn’t have a will, it would be distributed under the rules of intestacy.
(If you’re wondering what happens if there's no will and an heir dies before the estate settles, we answer that question here.)