Child Dies Before Parent: What Happens To Estate?

Typically toward the end of the estate planning conversation, a client asks the question, "What would happen to my estate if my child dies before me?"

There are a few different components to this question. First, if a Louisiana resident dies with no legal planning in place (no last will means they died "intestate"), then state law determines who gets what. For example, let's say Dad dies. Two years earlier, Daughter died. Daughter left three children. If Dad died intestate, Daughter's three children would inherit the portion that would have gone to Daughter. Daughter's three children "represent" their mother in Dad's Succession.

Now, let's say, Dad left a Will or a Trust when Dad died. Now, the estate planning legal documents Dad signed control what happens to Dad's estate. Most estate planning documents have, as a default provision, a statement that says that if a child predeceases a parent, then the child's share will go the child's children. However, when a person is putting an estate legal program in place, they can direct their estate as they wish. Many parents express that if their child predeceases, they do not want the child's share to go to the child's spouse or the child's step-children. Or some grandparents have grandchildren that have substance abuse problems and the grandparents do not want to dump an inheritance into a grandchild's lap. So, it's important to address these contingencies as you create your estate legal program.

What you can't do, however, is leave an inheritance to a child and then direct what happens to that inheritance when the child later dies. Once you leave an inheritance to someone (such as, a child), the inheritance belongs to the person who you left it to. You cannot control what they do with it. However, by leaving an inheritance in trust you may be able to exercise more control over what happens to the inherited assets after you pass away.