What Happens to a Will or Trust if a Beneficiary Dies in Pennsylvania?

If a beneficiary in your will or trust passes away, you have options. Continue reading and reach out to our firm today to speak with one of our skilled Pennsylvania estate planning attorneys.

What is the role of a beneficiary in Pennsylvania?

When a creator of an estate plan appoints someone to receive an inheritance of theirs upon their passing, he or she will be named a beneficiary. It is important to note that beneficiaries play a large role in the building blocks of an estate plan, and oftentimes are the reason why an individual will create an estate plan in the first place.

When looking at a thorough estate plan, there will likely be several different types of beneficiaries, known as primary beneficiaries and contingent beneficiaries. Additionally, not all beneficiaries have to be individuals, or classes of individuals, for example, children or grandchildren. An individual can instead choose an organization.

A primary beneficiary is a person or organization to inherit first from a trust or a will. On the other hand, a contingent beneficiary is a person or organization to inherit if the primary beneficiary is predeceased. In some cases, the contingent beneficiary is referred to as the “second in line” beneficiary.

Do not wait to reach out to one of our experienced estate planning attorneys. At Friedman Schuman, our legal team is dedicated to ensuring that you and your future are always protected.

What happens to a will or trust when a beneficiary dies?

In the event that a beneficiary of a trust or will passes away, the owner of the estate plan will have to go back and amend their estate plan. If the will names alternate beneficiaries, then it is quite clear what will happen to the inheritance if the first-choice recipient doesn’t meet the survivorship requirement: the alternate gets it. If the will does not name an alternate, or the alternate has also died, you will have something called a “lapsed” or “failed” gift. Depending on Pennsylvania law and how the will is written, the property will go to either:

  • The residuary beneficiary named in the will
  • The primary beneficiary’s descendants, under your state’s “anti-lapse” law, or
  • The deceased person’s heirs under state law, as if there were no will.

To learn more about what can happen if the beneficiary of your estate plan passes away, reach out to our skilled Pennsylvania estate planning firm today to learn more.


Friedman Schuman is an experienced and dedicated legal resource for clients throughout Pennsylvania. We proudly serve clients facing a wide range of legal matters. If you require the services of an effective attorney, please contact Friedman Schuman today to schedule a consultation.

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