When creating an estate plan with the help of a will lawyer, you’ll be asked to choose the beneficiaries whom you want to inherit your money and property when you pass away.
In most cases, our clients tell us that they want their life’s hard work to go toward the betterment of their children’s lives. Due to age differences, children will usually outlive their parents as well. But, what happens when a parent outlives a child? What becomes of the inheritance you wanted to pass on to him or her?
If You Don’t Have a Will or Trust…
The answer depends on what kind of estate planning you have (or have not) done so far. For example, if you don’t have a will or trust in place, then you are likely to have little say in what becomes of your assets upon your death. Instead, your estate will go into probate, and the state of Pennsylvania will disseminate your assets based upon the law. The courts will determine your “heirs at law,” which it uses to give your assets to your closest blood relatives.
In this case, if your intended heir dies before you do, it won’t make much difference, as he or she just won’t be considered in the probate process. The court will simply distribute your estate to the blood relatives who are next in line under the law.
If You Have Estate Planning Documents…
If you have put together your will and/or trusts, then you will have named beneficiaries. This is where the question of “what happens if my heir dies before I do” really comes into play. If you survive one of your children, then who gets his or her share when you die?
The best way to resolve this kind of question is to work with your estate planning attorney from the beginning to name alternate beneficiaries. This way, if one heir is unable to claim an inheritance, there is a plan in place for what should become of it. You will likely also want to choose an alternate executor for the same reasons. If you do not make such provisions, the child’s portion will again be distributed according to the laws of succession as if you had no plan to begin with.
Unfortunately, many estate planning attorneys will overlook the importance of naming alternate heirs. Instead, they may just rely upon the idea of “heirs at law” as described above. You may be comfortable with this approach, but if not, it’s a good idea to bring it up to your attorney to make sure you are able to set up a workable solution that is within Pennsylvania state and Federal laws.
If you want to be sure that your plan accounts for all situations that may arise when it comes to distributing your estate, please feel free to call our law firm to schedule a consultation with a will lawyer.