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Pennsylvania Estate Rules On What to Do If a Beneficiary Dies

21 August, 2011



When a person dies, that person is known as a decedent in legal terms. When a Pennsylvania decedent dies leaving a valid last will and testament, the people, or entities, who inherit under the will are known as beneficiaries. Anyone who inherits through intestate succession, when a will was not executed, is known as an heir. If a beneficiary is not living at the time the decedent dies, the inheritance left to the beneficiary may pass to heirs of the beneficiary, other beneficiaries under the will or intestate heirs.

    • When a last will and testament is executed by a person, the will is generally intended to provide a legal mechanism to pass all of the decedent’s assets down to beneficiaries upon his death. A will may bequeath specific items or assets to a beneficiary or may bequeath a percentage of the total assets of the estate. Pennsylvania estate rules of interpretation will attempt to interpret the will in a way that leaves no assets of the estate without a beneficiary.

    • When a Pennsylvania decedent leaves assets to a child or issue of the decedent, or to a sibling or child of a sibling, and the designated beneficiary dies before the decedent, then the assets that were intended for the beneficiary will pass to the beneficiaries’ issue. “Issue” is a legal term which is used to describe a child, grandchild or other lineal descendant. The exception to this rule is that if the intended beneficiary is a sibling, or child of a sibling, and he fails to survive the death of the decedent, then the inheritance will pass to the decedent’s spouse or issue if that person is alive at the time of the decedent’s death.

    • When a bequest in a will that is not considered part of the residue of the estate does not qualify for the substitution of issue rule, then that bequest will become part of the residue of the estate, meaning it will become part of all non-specific bequests. Any portion of a will that has not been passed down by substitution of issue or passed to the spouse or issue of the decedent, shall be passed to all residuary devisees or legatees. A will often specifies that any assets remaining after all bequests have been taken into account shall be devised to a specific beneficiary or a class of beneficiaries in equal shares. In the absence of a clause such as that, the remainder will be passed down to the heirs under the laws of intestate succession as if the will did not exist.

    • A decedent may directly indicate in a last will and testament what she wants done with a bequest in the event the beneficiary does not survive her. In that case, the wishes of the decedent will be honored. For example, a testator, or person making the will, frequently bequeaths a portion to a spouse but also indicates that if his spouse should fail to survice him then the spouse’s share will pass to his children.

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by Ethan Leak



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