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What Happens If a Beneficiary Passes Away Before the Individual or Before Probate Ends?

Probate can be a lengthy and complex process, both emotionally and legally. It can become even more complex if an heir or beneficiary passes away prior to receiving their inheritance. There are some ways to prevent complications through estate planning, but there are also solutions through probate.

Estate Planning

During estate planning, or while designating beneficiaries for certain investment or bank accounts, individuals may have the option to designate a "secondary beneficiary." If the decedent opted to designate a secondary beneficiary, the secondary beneficiary will likely receive the property if the first beneficiary pre-deceases the probate process, depending on the language of the document.

Certain estate plans designate gifts "per stirpes." If a gift has been designated "per stirpes" and the beneficiary pre-deceases the probate process, the beneficiary's descendants, which may be children or grandchildren, will automatically receive the beneficiary's inheritance, distributed equally. Florida also has an "anti-lapse" statute, which automatically gives a pre-deceased beneficiary's share of the estate to their descendants, if the per stirpes language is not present, to prevent the gift from "lapsing" to the probate estate.

Additionally, an estate plan may designate a "class gift," or a sum of money or items to go to a certain class of individuals. If a beneficiary pre-deceases the probate process, their share of the class gift will revert back into the class of individuals to be distributed equally among them.


If there is no estate plan or secondary beneficiary named, the pre-decease beneficiary's share of the estate will revert to the individual's probate estate, and pass through "intestacy." Intestacy is the process by which assets are distributed, according to statute, rather than by direction of an estate plan. Under intestacy, property may be distributed to a surviving spouse, child, grandchild, extended family member, or the state of Florida, depending on who is living at the time of the individual's death.

Having an estate plan helps prepare for the unexpected, even in the case of beneficiary's pre-deceasing the estate planner or probate process. If you have questions about your estate plan or the probate process, you should contact an attorney. Contact our office today for a consultation.

This article is not intended to be legal advice, nor create an attorney-client relationship.

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