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What happens when a beneficiary dies during probate?

On Behalf of | Jan 27, 2023 | Estate Planning |

Probate proceedings in California and around the country verify that wills are valid, provide for the payment of outstanding debts and taxes, and ensure that heirs receive their inheritances. But what happens if one of the beneficiaries passes away before the process has run its course? Elderly decedents often have elderly beneficiaries, so this situation is not as rare as it might seem. As with many areas of probate law, it all depends on where the decedent lived.

The general rule

As a general rule, money or assets that were bequeathed to a beneficiary who dies during the probate process will become part of the deceased beneficiary’s estate. This means they will be inherited by whoever the deceased beneficiary named in their will or passed to one of their relatives under intestate laws if they did not draft a will. This rule only apples to beneficiaries that are named in a will. For example, if the decedent stated that assets should be distributed to their children without naming each child, the deceased beneficiary’s share will be shared among the surviving children.

California’s anti-lapse law

Many states have laws that prevent deceased beneficiaries from inheriting is they pass away shortly after the decedent. This time limit is sometimes called the survivorship period. As with many legal matters, California does things a little differently. The state has an anti-lapse law that allows deceased beneficiaries to inherit even if they pass away before the decedent.

Revising wills

When beneficiaries die during the probate process, their inheritances usually become part of their estates. Some states have laws that prevent this form happening if the beneficiary passes away shortly after the decedent, but California’s anti-lapse law allows money or assets to pass to a deceased beneficiary’s estate even if they die before the decedent. The law dealing with these matters is clear, but that may not be enough to stop heirs objecting to assets or money being passed to individuals not named in a will. Revisiting and updating wills on a regular basis is the best way to avoid these issues.