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Q: If a will leaves property to someone and they die before the person writing the will, who inherits the property?

A: I’m sure this won’t come as a surprise, but it will depend on the terms of the will and the facts about the predeceased legatee.

The first thing that you should do is look at the will and determine what, if anything, it says will happen in the event the legatee predeceases the testator. If the will was prepared by an attorney, chances are pretty good that a provision was added to address a predeceased legatee.

The will might provide that if the legatee predeceases the testator, the property is distributed to another individual or group of individuals. The will might also provide that if the legatee predeceases the testator, the bequest lapses and it becomes part of the residue of the estate. A number of different things can happen so it’s important to check to see what the will actually says.

Now if the will doesn’t address what happens if the legatee predeceases the testator, the general rule is it lapses and the property becomes part of the residue. However, there is an important exception.

Like a lot of states, Indiana has what is affectionately known as an anti-lapse statute. Essentially, the anti-lapse statute addresses when a legatee predeceases a testator. However, the scope and application of the anti-lapse statute is limited to “descendants” of the testator.

For example, if the will leaves $1,000 to the testator’s son, David, and David fails to survive the testator, the $1,000 will be distributed to David’s children rather than lapsing. If David wasn’t a descendant, the anti-lapse statute wouldn’t apply and the distribution would likely lapse.

As I indicated, what happens to a distribution to a predeceased legatee can vary depending on the terms of the will and the circumstances themselves. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer; just a bunch or rules and exceptions to them.

Christopher W. Yugo is an attorney in Crown Point. Chris’ Estate Planning Article appears online every Sunday at www.nwi.com. Address questions to Chris in care of The Times, 601 W. 45th Ave., Munster, IN 46321 or to Chrisyugolaw@gmail.com. Chris’ information is meant to be general in nature. Specific legal, tax, or insurance questions should be referred to your attorney, accountant, or estate-planning specialist.

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