When you’re deciding to whom to leave assets, most people choose their children or other descendants. However, you also need to decide on the “contingent remainder” beneficiary. In other words, who should get your assets if all your other beneficiaries are gone. Read on to learn more about this often-confusing concept.
When you’re planning your estate, among other things, you decide who should inherit your assets. You choose your beneficiaries, typically your children, grandchildren, or other close relatives. But what if all the beneficiaries you’ve chosen and all their descendants have died? Then it would fall to the “contingent remainder” beneficiary.
Often the “contingent remainder” beneficiary has a slang nickname, like the “atom bomb” beneficiary or “exploding turkey” beneficiary. The contingent remainder beneficiary often is given this nickname because it’s a very unusual circumstance. The odds of all your descendants dying before you typically are very low. Of course, that’s not to say it is impossible.
But, still, you should give serious thought to whom you should choose for that role. Sometimes people choose their heirs at law because they think they should or must do so. However, if all your descendants have predeceased you, depending upon state law, that could mean your heirs would be some distant relatives with whom you have little or no relationship in real life.
Sometimes people choose a charity as the contingent remainder beneficiary. Sometimes they choose their alma mater, their church, or the charity to whom they’ve given consistently during their lifetime.
There’s not a wrong choice for the contingent remainder role. But you aren’t required to choose a particular one either. You have no obligation to choose your heirs at law, just because you may share a common ancestor. Give some thought to the decision and name whomever you feel in your heart would be the best recipient for your assets in the event your primary beneficiaries have predeceased you. You’ll be glad you did.
After you’ve chosen your beneficiaries, including your first line beneficiaries like your children, and the contingent remainder “atom bomb” beneficiary, you’ll sleep better knowing that you’ve covered all your bases. You’ll know that your assets are going where you want them to go, even in the most unlikely of scenarios.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
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