The majority of people we see in our Orange County estate planning law firm name their adult children as beneficiaries of their estate plan. In most cases, this works well because children typically outlive their parents. But, what happens when a child dies before the parent? What becomes of the inheritance that a parent plans to leave behind?

The answer depends on whether or not you have a will or trust in place.

When You Don’t Have A Will or Trust

If you do not have a will or trust in place, then you don’t have control of what happens to your assets if a child dies before you do.  Your estate will go into probate when you die, and the state of California will decide how to divide the assets that would have went to your child. The courts will name your “heirs at law,” which typically pass those assets down to your closest blood relatives.

When You Have an Estate Plan

If you have a will and/or trust, then you have named beneficiaries.  If one of the beneficiaries was a child who passed away, you’ll need to update your plan to name someone else who can inherit his or her assets. If you do not name an alternative beneficiary, when you die, that portion of your estate will go through probate as though you had no plan in place at all. Again, the courts will decide who will receive the inheritance that was meant for an heir that has already passed away.

Fortunately, when you work with a qualified and experienced estate planning attorney, he or she will help you to name alternative beneficiaries from the start.  Think about alternative beneficiaries as being your “Plan B” option. If something happens to your chosen beneficiary, or if your beneficiary simply declines to take their inheritance (hey, it happens) there will already be someone else named of your choosing who would inherit those assets.  This ensures the courts never have to get involved.

Sadly, we’ve seen many estate plans created by less experienced attorneys where the issue of naming alternative beneficiaries was overlooked. In these cases, the “heirs at law” rule will be used to determine who will receive the assets. There are some people who choose this route. But, if you want more control over who inherits from you, be sure to work with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney.

If you need assistance, we invite you to contact our Orange County Probate and Estate Planning Law Firm at (949) 260-1400 to schedule a consultation.