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John aspires to be an attorney who can help the people, families, businesses, and special interest groups of Northeastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania achieve their goals. His practice areas include estate planning, firearm trusts, Medicaid planning, asset protection, business succession planning, and probate.
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What if Your Life Insurance Beneficiary Predeceases You?

October 6, 2023
If you have life insurance, you know you were required to pick a single or multiple beneficiaries when you purchased your policy. When you die, the beneficiaries receive the payout from the policy.

Most people understand the overall workings of life insurance, but according to a recent article from yahoo! finance, they may not know the answer to this question: “What happens if your life insurance beneficiary dies before you?”

Beneficiaries are typically spouses, family members, friends, or charitable organizations the insured cares about and wants to protect financially after the policy owner dies. However, sometimes, life doesn’t go as planned. If there’s one beneficiary and they die before the insured, an entire plan can be undone. This can be avoided with a few simple steps.

First, make sure you name several contingency beneficiaries, not just one. If there’s only one, and they die before you and no changes were made to the policy, the proceeds from the policy will most likely be paid directly into your estate upon your death.

This means the entire amount will go through probate, making it accessible to creditors and visible to anyone who wants to look up your will information. If there are outstanding debts, from a home mortgage to student loans or debts to the IRS, claims may be placed on your estate, including the insurance policy death benefit.

It’s possible your friends, relatives, or business associates could find themselves embroiled in an estate battle over these funds. Having a secondary and even a tertiary beneficiary named on the policy isn’t difficult to do and can prevent unnecessary litigation and disputes among loved ones.

If you’ve named more than one primary beneficiary and the primary beneficiary dies, in most cases, the death benefit proceeds from the life insurance policy will usually be distributed among the remaining beneficiaries. How it is distributed will depend upon whether or not it’s done on a per stirpes or per capita basis.

Per stirpes means the money will be divided equally between beneficiaries if the primary dies. If the proceeds are to be split between two children, but one has died before you, the surviving beneficiary still gets their intended share. The other share is still divided equally among the deceased beneficiary's children. Under a per capita arrangement, the death benefit would go to the remaining primary beneficiary.

What if you’ve named a nonprofit organization, but it shuts down or is absorbed by a different organization? A few different scenarios may occur. One is that the death benefit could be paid to your estate, which would be subject to probate. The second is the organization that superseded the organization you named as your beneficiary may step forward to claim the benefit.

Talk with your beneficiaries about any life insurance policies where they are the beneficiaries, and let them know your wishes for how the death benefit will be distributed. After you pass, they must contact the insurance company, ideally with a copy of the policy. They won’t automatically get the benefit unless they make a claim to the money and provide the required proof. Your estate planning attorney should be informed of your policy and beneficiaries, so they can help when the time comes. If you need assistance with your life insurance policy, contact Attorney John Hoffman for a free consultation.

Reference: yahoo! finance (September 5, 2023) “What happens if your life insurance beneficiary dies before you?”

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