What happens if all my beneficiaries die?

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When a person dies having made a valid Will, the deceased’s estate will generally be distributed in accordance with the directions in that Will.

However, it may be that by the time the deceased has passed away, all of the beneficiaries (recipients) under the Will have also passed away. This is a particular risk where will-makers are leaving their estate to older beneficiaries, such as their parents.

Ideally, if a majority of the beneficiaries die during the life of a will-maker, the will-maker should update their Will to move the deceased beneficiaries and instead include living beneficiaries. However, some people never get around to doing this, and the executor of the Will finds themselves in a position where they must administer a Will that only contemplates deceased beneficiaries.

Obtaining Probate

If an executor finds themselves in this position, they would ordinarily need to apply for probate of the Will and then distribute the deceased’s estate in accordance with the laws of ‘intestacy’ (explained below).

Whether an executor will need to apply for a grant of probate will depend on various factors (including the requirements of the deceased’s bank). You should contact a lawyer if you have any queries in this regard.

The Laws of Intestacy

The laws of intestacy set out the order of the persons who a deceased’s estate must be distributed to, if a deceased dies without leaving a Will.

The same rules and order applies if a deceased dies leaving a Will, under which all of the contemplated beneficiaries died before the deceased.

These rules can be found in sections 35 – 39 of the Succession Act 1981 (QLD), and require the distribution of the deceased’s assets in the order shown in the diagram below:

If for any reason the estate assets cannot be distributed to any of the beneficiaries or any of the parties outlined in the above diagram, the estate would ultimately be distributed to the Crown as per the doctrine of Bona Vacantia.[1].

[1] A A Preece, Lee’s Manual of Queensland Succession Law (Thomson Reuters, 7th ed, 2013) 12.200.