Contingent Beneficiary

The alternative to the primary beneficiary of a financial account's proceeds

What is a Contingent Beneficiary?

A contingent beneficiary is the alternative beneficiary, designated by the account holder, who is set to receive the proceeds or benefits of a financial account only if the primary beneficiary is not able to accept the benefits at the time of payment. The financial account can be in the form of insurance, retirement, or an inheritance.


Contingent Beneficiary


When the primary beneficiary accepts and receives the benefits of a financial account, it generally disqualifies the contingent beneficiary to receive any benefits, as the primary is present at the time of payment.


Who is Eligible to be a Contingent Beneficiary?

The holder of a financial account may elect any individual, organization, charity, or trust as the contingent beneficiary. The elected individual should be of legal age or have the legal capacity for accepting the assets. In the event a minor is listed on the contract, a legal guardian should be appointed to oversee the assets until the minor reaches legal age.


What Instances or Events Make a Contingent Beneficiary Obliged to Receive Proceeds?

A contingent beneficiary can receive insurance proceeds, an inheritance, or retirement assets when the primary beneficiary is deceased, missing, or refuses to claim them at the time the account becomes due. There may also be other predetermined conditions set by the account holder that the beneficiary must meet before the proceeds are released.

Examples include the following conditions: getting married, graduating from college, or even attempting to avoid legal troubles. Laws and regulations govern certain asset transfers, including a few that prescribe the age of eligibility of the primary beneficiary.


Do Contingent Beneficiaries Have Rights?

As an alternate recipient of financial proceeds, a contingent beneficiary has the right to enforce the provisions included in the contract. If a person or third party who controls the account refuses to implement the agreement, then a lawsuit may be filed by the concerned parties.

In extreme cases, the contingent beneficiary can have a reasonable claim. For example, if the primary beneficiary murders the account holder in an attempt to inherit the assets, the contingent beneficiary would have a reasonable claim.


What are the Benefits of Naming Contingent Beneficiaries on Financial Accounts?

Adding beneficiaries, either primary or contingent, to financial accounts, especially with regards to insurance policies and inheritance, is generally recommended for account holders. Such a practice avoids unnecessary probate expenses or delays for the heirs to receive the proceeds.

Even if primary beneficiaries are listed, it is always important to formulate a backup plan just in case the primaries are not able to meet the predetermined conditions. Failure to name or elect any beneficiaries will cause all assets or wealth left by the deceased to go to his estate, which may severely limit the potential benefits that the heirs may receive.


More Resources

CFI offers the Financial Modeling & Valuation Analyst (FMVA)™ certification program for those looking to take their careers to the next level. To keep learning and advancing your career, the following CFI resources will be helpful:

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