What Happens If A Beneficiary Passes Away Before The Testator?
When Ivana Trump, millionaire and ex-wife of former U.S. President Donald Trump, passed away in 2022, much was said about the contents of her last will and testament. Many of the bequests were in line with what was to be expected – money and assets divided amongst her children, friends, and various charitable organizations. However, one notable bequest grabbed headlines. Florida probate records show that the late Ivana Trump had expressed in her will – notarized in 2019 – the intention to gift her ex-husband, Rossano Rubicondi, a property in St. Tropez, France. The snag here is that Ms. Trump passed away in 2022. Mr. Rossano passed away in 2021.
So – what happens when a beneficiary passes away before they inherit a bequest?
What Happens to bequests if the Beneficiary Predeceases the Testator?
A testator never intentionally bequeaths gifts to individuals who will never live to claim them. However, quite frequently, a testator just happens to outlive one or more of the beneficiaries listed in their will. If a will is not written to include a contingency plan, or modified following the death of the beneficiary, then that gift or bequest traditionally “lapses.” This means that the gift/bequest/property/asset returns into the residuary estate of the testator.
It is important to repeat – the bequest returns to the estate of the testator. If a beneficiary predeceases the testator then what would have been inherited by the beneficiary is not passed on to the beneficiary’s estate. If no further provisions exist for the beneficiary’s estate to inherit in the place of a deceased beneficiary, then the gift will “lapse” and be returned into the residuary estate of the testator.
This legal concept can become important in certain situations when it is unclear whether the testator or beneficiary passed away first. Additionally, if every beneficiary listed in a will pass away before the testator, then Florida will apply the rules of intestate succession to the estate.
Florida’s Anti-Lapse Statute
As you can see, a gap exists where the testator’s wish to have an item benefit a named individual could go unfulfilled. Even if that specific beneficiary has passed away, the bequest would have become part of that individual’s estate, had they lived long enough to inherit it. Florida has enacted an “anti-lapse” statute to help ensure that bequests will go to the beneficiary’s descendants, instead of lapsing.
The anti-lapse statute only provides this protection if the bequest was made to an immediate family member – such as a daughter. Ms. Trump’s bequest to an ex-husband would not fit within the parameters of the anti-lapse statute, and so that bequest would not benefit from the law. However, the anti-lapse statute can be greatly beneficial to family members who would not otherwise inherit.
Contact Suncoast Civil Law
This story shines a light not only on the importance of updating dated estate planning documents, but also on the wisdom of preparing and structuring your estate planning documents to allow for contingency situations. The experienced Sarasota wills and probate attorneys at Suncoast Civil Law have aided clients in all walks of life through the process of structuring their estate plans and closing out probate cases. Contact our office today to discuss how our expertise can help you set a solid foundation for your future.