What if There Was No Named Beneficiary on an Account After the Account Owner Dies?


Following the death of a loved one, their entire estate will need to be managed. In general, this is done through the probate process, and often with the help of an estate planning lawyer, like an estate planning lawyer. The probate process is influenced by whether or not the person had a will and who their named beneficiaries are. A beneficiary is a person who is entitled to some or all of the estates’ assets. 


Things can become complicated when there are no living beneficiaries or there is no will for the court to use as guidance. In cases like this, the court will follow the laws of the state to ensure all assets are divided accordingly. 


Administering an Estate
Probate occurs when a person dies with a will. The court, and usually an estate lawyer, will see loved ones through the process and ensure that creditors are paid off, assets are valued, and beneficiaries receive their assets as the decedent wished. This process can take several months or more and tends to be very expensive. If the estate is worth less than a certain amount, typically $20,000 – $40,000, and there is no property involved, the probate process might be avoided. 


When there is no will, a similar process to probate will be utilized. This is known as intestacy or administration and has steps comparable to probate. The primary difference will be that the court decides who gets what. This means that they will consider all applicable living relatives to determine who will inherit the estate. 


A Will Existed, but There Were No Beneficiaries
In a will, beneficiaries are those who the decedent (drafter of the will) wishes to inherit their estate after their death. Typically, specific beneficiaries are named in the legal document. However, when a named beneficiary has died or there are certain applicable circumstances, it may be impossible to enforce the will as the decedent had wished. If this should be true, it will be up to the court to decide.


As an estate lawyer might tell you, the primary way in which a will has no beneficiaries is when they have died before the decedent. In this case, the will was not updated after the beneficiary’s death. Many states have anti-lapse statutes that apply to a probate matter that involves beneficiaries who predeceased the decedent. In this case, the law says that if the deceased beneficiary was related to the decedent, the new heirs would be those related to the deceased beneficiary. 


For instance, if a mother listed her daughter as the beneficiary, but the daughter died first, the estate would pass to the daughter’s children. Bear in mind, if the daughter had no children, a court might extend the estate to other living relatives. There are other applicable laws when the beneficiary was not related to the decedent. In this case, the estate may be divided and passed on to blood relatives. It should be noted, that the decedent could have included rules in their will that require the courts’ consideration. 


Another way in which a will might have no beneficiaries, is when the court finds the will to be invalid. This might occur for any number of reasons, but is typically associated with a lack of capacity, fraud, or undue influence. In this case, the estate may be treated as if there was no will, and the laws of intestacy would apply. 


If you are concerned about whether or not your will is valid or updated and you have clear wishes about your estate, it is advisable to consult with an estate lawyer.