In the majority of estate plans in Northwest Iowa, the heirs are pretty clearly outlined. Typically speaking, spouses and children are the most commonly listed heirs. Choosing children as heirs to your inheritance makes sense. After all, most people want their life’s hard work to go toward the betterment of their children’s lives. Due to age differences, children will usually outlive their parents, as well.

But, what happens when you outlive an heir? What becomes of the inheritance you wanted to be passed on to him or her?

If You Don’t Have a Will or Trust

For Iowa residents, The answer depends on what kind of estate planning you have (or have not) done so far. For example, if you have no will or trust in place, then you have little say in what becomes of your assets upon your death.

Instead, your estate will go into probate, and your assets will be distributed based on Iowa law. The courts will determine your “heirs at law,” generally meaning your closest living blood relatives, and will give them all of your assets.

Of course, this can pose some problems in a modern culture where we have so many blended families. For example, part of your estate might go to a half-sibling due to blood ties, instead of to step-children whom you raised as if they were your own. Worse yet, if your spouse leaves his or her estate to you and you pass away without having done the appropriate estate planning, whatever is left would go to your blood relatives and not to those of the spouse.

In this case, if you outlive an heir, it won’t make much difference, as he or she just won’t be considered in the distribution process.

If You Have Estate Planning Documents

help when I outlive an heir

If you have put together your will and/or trust, then you have probably named or identified your own beneficiaries. This is where the question of “what happens if my heir dies before I do” really comes into play. If you survive one of your named beneficiaries, then who gets their share when you die?

The best way to resolve this question is to work with a specialized estate planning lawyer from the beginning to name alternate beneficiaries. This way, if one heir is unable to claim inheritance, there is a plan in place for what should become of their share. You will likely also want to choose an alternate executor for the same reasons.

Unfortunately, many general practice lawyers in Northwest Iowa will overlook the importance of naming alternate heirs. Instead, they may just rely upon the idea of “heirs at law” as described above. You may be comfortable with this approach, but if not, it’s a good idea to bring it up to your attorney to make sure you are able to set up a workable solution which is within Iowa and Federal laws.