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What is a Contingent Beneficiary?

If your primary beneficiaries can’t receive the death benefit from your life insurance policy for any reason, a contingent beneficiary may serve as a backup. Your contingent beneficiary might be a specific person, organization, or charity. Let’s take a closer look at what a contingent beneficiary is and how it works.

Contingent beneficiary definition

A contingent beneficiary is a backup beneficiary that will benefit from your policy if the primary beneficiary can’t receive the payout.1 When you apply for a life insurance policy, you’ll be asked to name your primary beneficiary. The primary beneficiary will collect the death benefit if you pass away while your plan is still active. A contingent beneficiary, however, will be entitled to the benefit if the primary beneficiary has died, can’t be found, or refused the payout.

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Can I name multiple contingent beneficiaries?

Yes, you can name multiple contingent beneficiaries. For example, your spouse might be your primary beneficiary, and your children may serve as your contingent beneficiaries. If your spouse is unable to collect the death benefit, your children will each receive a portion of it. But it’s important to note that if your children are minors, they may not be able to access the funds right away. Instead, the payout may be held in trust until they become adults.1

What if I don’t name a contingent beneficiary?

If you don’t name a contingent beneficiary for your life insurance policy and the primary beneficiary can’t receive the payout, your estate may have to go through the probate process.1 Unfortunately, this comes with fees that can reduce the benefit you’ve paid for. The clearer you are about your intentions before you pass away, the better.

Can I change my contingent beneficiary?

As long as the beneficiaries in your policy are revocable, you have the freedom to change your contingent beneficiary.2 If you get divorced, for example, you can replace your ex-spouse with someone else as your beneficiary.

Contingent beneficiary vs. primary beneficiary

The main difference between a primary and contingent beneficiary is who will receive the death benefit payout first if the policyholder passes away. A primary beneficiary is first in line to receive the payout from your life insurance policy. Typically, this individual may be someone very close to you, such as your spouse. Ideally, they’ll be the ones that benefit from your policy when you pass away. A contingent beneficiary, on the other hand, is second in line to collect the payout. This may be your child or even an organization that you care about.2

Contingent beneficiary life insurance payout process

If you pass away and your life insurance policy is still active, the primary beneficiary will be able to file a claim and receive their payout. But if they don’t for any reason, a contingent beneficiary may take their place and inherit the death benefit instead. As stated, they’re your backup beneficiary, and can come into play if your primary beneficiary dies before you or chooses not to collect their payout.

How to choose contingent beneficiaries in life insurance

You may name just about any person, organization, or business as your contingent beneficiary. Just make sure you do so when you first purchase a life insurance policy. As long as your life insurance company states your beneficiaries are revocable, you can always change them in the future. If you do choose a child as your contingent beneficiary, note that you’ll need to designate a trustee to manage the estate on behalf of them.

Do I need a primary and contingent beneficiary?

You are required to name a primary beneficiary when get life insurance. A contingent beneficiary isn’t required, but it’s a good idea to include at least one in your life insurance policy. Otherwise, your assets may have to go through the probate process if your primary beneficiary doesn’t claim them. Designating a contingent beneficiary can make the process of distributing your estate easier and give you peace of mind knowing that the life insurance payout will go to a person or entity you care about.

Learn more about life insurance

Ideally, your primary beneficiary will be the one to collect your life insurance payout. But if things don’t go as planned, a contingent beneficiary can serve as a good backup option. Your contingent beneficiary can be any individual or organization you value and believe is worthy of the funds.

Now that you know the difference between a primary and contingent beneficiary, you can choose a life insurance policy that works best for you and your loved ones. Aflac offers several life insurance plans that can help protect your loved ones financially upon your passing, such as term and whole life insurance. Start chatting with an agent to learn more about which type of life insurance may be right for you, and get a quote today.

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