What happens if I outlive one of my heirs?

Originally published in the News Star and the Shreveport Times on Sunday, May 1, 2016.

Question: I have lived longer than I thought I ever would. I’ve been blessed with several children and grandchildren. Now I am faced with the possibility that I could outlive some of them. What would happen if I live longer than one of my children? Would their children get their portion of my estate? I have one child who never had any children of her own.

Answer: What do you want to happen?

You have the opportunity to make that decision by making your own will. If you forego that opportunity, Louisiana has a will for you (assuming you live here). Our state deals with these situations in what are called the “laws of intestacy.” These laws govern what happens when someone dies without a will.

Elderly woman with two adult daughters.

If you don’t have a will, Louisiana law will dictate who gets what out of your estate. Depending on your circumstances, portions may go to a spouse, children, siblings, cousins or even parents.

Some folks are OK with that, but many want to make sure they know who’s going to inherit their estate.

So if you have not done so already, I recommend you speak with an attorney experienced in the preparation of wills.

You asked what would happen if you outlived a potential heir. Let’s consider a few possibilities.

Supposed you have five children. Four of your children have children of their own. But one of your children remains childless.

Allow me to assume you want your own children treated equally. If you had an estate worth $100,000, you might envision each child getting $20,000 at your death.

Suppose one of your children with children of their own dies. Would you then want your inheritance divided four ways, ignoring your grandchildren? Or would you prefer the deceased child’s portion go to his or her children (your grandchildren) in equal portions? And what if your children with children of their own have differing numbers of offspring? One may have one child. Another may have six.

Not so simple, is it?

The most common approach I have seen is to leave things equally to children, with portions going equally to grandchildren if their parent is dead. But just because it is common doesn’t make it right for you.

Sometimes circumstances call for unequal treatment.

There may be a special need that one child has that calls for a greater share.

Or there may have been a misdeed (criminal behavior, chronic substance abuse, estrangement, etc) that calls for a reduced or even eliminated portion for another potential heir.

Or perhaps a very good deed calls for an outsized share for one or more potential heirs. I’ve seen instances where one child gave up a significant part of their life to care for an aging parent for many years. This may call for a larger share of inheritance.

None of these things I mention are recommendations. Good people can disagree about how any of the above mentioned situations might best be handled.

But without a will, there is only one way they will be handled – the way Louisiana’s laws of intestacy say they will.

If you think you know better how you wish your estate to pass – no matter who is living at the time – see a lawyer and draft a will.

Don’t leave your wishes to chance.

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Byron R. Moore, CFP® is Managing Director / Planning Group of Argent Advisors, Inc. Email him at bmoore@argentadvisors.com. Write to him at 500 East Reynolds Drive, Ruston, LA 71270 or call him at (318) 251-5858. The opinions of any single advisor do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Argent Advisors, Inc. No forecasts can be guaranteed. Argent Advisors, Inc. does not offer tax, insurance or legal advice. The information contained in this column should not be construed as a substitute for personalized investment, tax, insurance or legal advice.


Argent Financial Group

Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2020, Argent Financial Group (Argent) is a leading, independent, fiduciary wealth management firm. Responsible for more than $30 billion in client assets, Argent provides individuals, families, businesses and institutions with a broad range of wealth management services, including trust and estate administration, investment management, ESOPs, retirement plan consulting, funeral and cemetery trusts, charitable organization administration, oil and gas (mineral) management and other unique financial services. Headquartered in Ruston, Louisiana, Argent was formed in 1990 and traces its roots back to 1930.

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