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By: Scott Grossman on January 13th, 2020

What Happens to a Deceased Spouse’s or Deceased Beneficiary’s Share of an Estate

When it comes to the process of administering an estate, few things are ever truly easy. The administration process is often lengthy, complicated, and confusing for those who do not have significant experience handling these matters. One issue that can arise involves the surviving spouse of a person who otherwise stood to inherit under the terms of a will or trust. If you are administering the estate of a loved one, it is important to understand the rights of spouses to a deceased beneficiary’s share of the estate before proceeding.

What should you do if a beneficiary has passed away and you are in charge of administering an estate? This is a helpful overview:

Is a Spouse Entitled to a Deceased Beneficiary’s Share of an Estate?

  1. First, determine whether the beneficiary passed away before, after, or simultaneously to the decedent.
  2. Additionally, assess whether the will or trust addresses what it means to “survive” the decedent. For example, the will may state that a beneficiary must survive the decedent by at least 30 days. If the will or trust is silent on this issue, state law typically governs.
  3. Furthermore, if the beneficiary did not survive the decedent, carefully review the terms of the will or trust. If the beneficiary’s spouse has any right to the inheritance, it must say so in the document. Well, what your loved one did not have either a will or a trust? Then, in that case, the spouse of a predeceased beneficiary typically has no right to a share in the estate.
  4. Lastly, if the beneficiary did survive the decedent but passed away before the complete distribution of the inheritance was made, the surviving spouse may or may not have a right to the inheritance. Hopefully, the terms of the will or trust will specifically address these situations. For example, the documents may state that if a beneficiary dies before the complete distribution of his or her share of the estate, the share lapses. Alternatively, the documents may state that someone else can continue to take the deceased beneficiary’s share, such as a surviving spouse or surviving children of the beneficiary. It is also possible that the distributions are to be made to the estate of the deceased beneficiary. In that case, the surviving spouse may be the beneficiary of the deceased beneficiary’s estate and therefore may stand to receive the inheritance of his or her spouse in that manner.

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