When a beneficiary of an estate dies, California law addresses what happens to their portion of the decedent’s estate.
If a beneficiary dies after the testator, sections 11801 and 11802 of the California Probate Code apply.
If a beneficiary dies before the testator, then the disposition of the beneficiary’s share will depend on the terms of the will, if any, and application of California’s anti-lapse laws.
What Happens Under California Law When A Beneficiary Dies After The Decedent?
If a beneficiary survives the decedent, but dies during the administration and before distribution of the estate, section 11801 of the California Probate Code provides that:
(a) Except as provided in subdivision (b), the share in a decedent’s estate of a beneficiary who survives the decedent but who dies before distribution shall be distributed under this chapter with the same effect as though the distribution were made to the beneficiary while living.
(b) Subject to Section 21525, distribution may not be made under this chapter if the decedent’s will provides that the beneficiary is entitled to take under the will only if the beneficiary survives the date of distribution or other period stated in the will and the beneficiary fails to survive the date of distribution or other period.
Therefore, unless the decedent’s will says otherwise, the beneficiary’s personal representative or the beneficiary’s heirs will receive the beneficiary’s distribution if the beneficiary survives the decedent but subsequently dies.
Pursuant to section 11802 of the California Probate Code, the beneficiary’s share of the estate shall be distributed to the personal representative of the estate of the beneficiary to be administered in the beneficiary’s estate. However, if the beneficiary was issue of the decedent, and died intestate while under the age of majority, distribution is made directly to the heirs of the beneficiary without administration in the estate of the beneficiary.
If a person entitled to the beneficiary’s estate proceeds with a disposition of estate without administration, then distribution shall be made in accordance with Division 8 of the California Probate Code governing disposition of estates without administration.
What Happens Under California Law When A Beneficiary Dies Before The Decedent?
If a beneficiary dies before the decedent, California has an anti-lapse law that will prevent the gift to the beneficiary from lapsing (being invalid). If certain requirements are met, then the beneficiary’s share of the estate will pass to the beneficiary’s heirs or issue instead of going back into the decedent’s estate.
California’s anti-lapse law is found in section 21110 of the California Probate Code, which states:
(a) Subject to subdivision (b), if a transferee is dead when the instrument is executed, or fails or is treated as failing to survive the transferor or until a future time required by the instrument, the issue of the deceased transferee take in the transferee’s place in the manner provided in Section 240. A transferee under a class gift shall be a transferee for the purpose of this subdivision unless the transferee’s death occurred before the execution of the instrument and that fact was known to the transferor when the instrument was executed.
(b) The issue of a deceased transferee do not take in the transferee’s place if the instrument expresses a contrary intention or a substitute disposition. A requirement that the initial transferee survive the transferor or survive for a specified period of time after the death of the transferor constitutes a contrary intention. A requirement that the initial transferee survive until a future time that is related to the probate of the transferor’s will or administration of the estate of the transferor constitutes a contrary intention.
Therefore, there are two qualifications in California’s anti-lapse statute.
First, a beneficiary’s gift can only pass to kindred of the decedent – the statute is designed so that the property stays within the family. Therefore, if a decedent left a gift to a friend, who died after the decedent, the friend’s family would not inherit from the decedent.
The second qualification is that the decedent’s will can expressly overrule California’s anti-lapse statute by directing what happens to a gift that lapses.
Perhaps the easiest way to avoid a gift from lapsing is by instructing your California probate lawyer that you want to include a direction in the will that directs what will happen to a gift that lapses when a beneficiary dies.