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Can Grandchildren Get the Estate Before You?

What if parents have wills and their contingent beneficiaries are their two adult children. If one of the adult children dies before the parents, who gets that contingent beneficiary’s share?

POSTED ON: December 14, 2021
grandchildren-and-grandparent-wearing-navy-hat
WWII veteran with children. Grandchildren looking at grandfather's military awards.

It’s not that uncommon that a child dies before a parent. The question then arises about who gets that share. Can grandchildren get the estate before you, or do the will maker’s other children split the share of the decedent child?

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Who gets this inheritance if a beneficiary dies?” explains that the language of the will itself governs what happens with each beneficiary’s share in the event one of the adult children dies before his or her parents.

Some wills divide the remainder among the will maker’s children who are still living. With this, the surviving siblings would receive the entire estate.

This is called “per capita,” which is a Latin phrase that translates literally to “by head.” In a per capita distribution, each designated beneficiary receives an inheritance only if they’re living when the inheritance vests (at the will maker’s death).

If a beneficiary dies before this, that beneficiary’s share is divided among the surviving named beneficiaries. As a result, the children of the decedent beneficiary get nothing, unless they are specifically designated as beneficiaries.

So how can grandchildren get the estate before you?

However, the more common approach is for a will to state: “I give, devise and bequeath my residuary estate to my descendants, per stirpes.”

Per stirpes is a Latin phrase that translates literally to “by roots” or “by branch.” A per stirpes distribution means that a beneficiary’s share passes to their lineal descendants if the beneficiary dies before the inheritance vests. Per stirpes effectively designates a class of beneficiaries to receive estate property, rather than designating only specific individuals to inherit property.

Therefore, providing this language in the will means that if a child predeceases the testator and the predeceased child has surviving descendants, that predeceased child’s share will go to that predeceased child’s descendants … which means the will maker’s grandchildren can get some of the estate before you.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney in Charlotte about how each of these designations would work in your specific situation, when you draft or update your will.

Here at Sabrina Winters Law, we have helped hundreds of people designate beneficiaries in Charlotte. Schedule a Meeting with us today to find out how we can help you!

Reference: nj.com (Oct. 28, 2021) “Who gets this inheritance if a beneficiary dies?”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Inheritance, Probate Attorney, Beneficiary Designations

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