Contingent Beneficiary Life Insurance

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

What is a Contingent Beneficiary in Life Insurance?


A contingent beneficiary in life insurance is a secondary recipient who receives the death benefit if the primary beneficiary is unable or unwilling to accept it. This can occur if the primary beneficiary predeceases the policyholder or declines the benefit.


  • Security: Ensures the death benefit is not left without a recipient.
  • Flexibility: Allows for an alternative plan if the primary beneficiary is unavailable.
  • Estate Planning: Integral part of estate planning, providing clear instructions for asset distribution.


  1. Predecease Scenario: If a policyholder names their spouse as the primary beneficiary and their child as the contingent beneficiary, and the spouse dies before the policyholder, the benefit goes to the child.
  2. Declining Benefit: If a primary beneficiary chooses not to accept the benefit due to tax reasons or personal decisions, the contingent beneficiary receives the benefit.
Contingent Vs Tertiary Beneficiary

Process of Naming a Contingent Beneficiary

  1. Policy Application: Specify during the life insurance application process.
  2. Updating Policy: Beneficiaries can be updated or changed as needed.

Primary vs. Contingent Beneficiary

AspectPrimary BeneficiaryContingent Beneficiary
Eligibility to ClaimImmediate upon death of policyholderOnly if primary is unable or unwilling
Flexibility to ChangeYesYes
Role in Estate PlanningPrimary recipientBackup plan
How Would A Contingent Beneficiary Receive


Understanding the role of a contingent beneficiary in life insurance is crucial for effective estate planning and ensuring your assets are distributed according to your wishes. It provides a safety net in scenarios where the primary beneficiary cannot accept the benefit. Contact us today for a free quote.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who should be your contingent beneficiary?

Your contingent beneficiary should be someone you trust to receive the payout if your primary beneficiary cannot.

What is the difference between primary and contingent beneficiaries?

Primary beneficiaries are first in line to receive the payout, while contingent beneficiaries receive the payout if the primary beneficiary cannot.

What two conditions must be in place for a contingent beneficiary to receive proceeds?

The primary beneficiary must not receive the payout, and the contingent beneficiary must be named in the policy.

What is the difference between a life insurance beneficiary and a contingent beneficiary?

The life insurance beneficiary is the person who receives the payout upon the policyholder’s death, while the contingent beneficiary receives the payout if the primary beneficiary is unable to.

*Disclosure: Some of the links in this guide may be affiliate links. I may receive a commission at no cost to you if you purchase a policy. It helps us keep the lights on!

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

Shawn Plummer is a licensed financial professional, insurance agent, and annuity broker with over 14 years of first-hand experience with annuities and insurance. Since beginning his journey in 2009, he has been pivotal in selling and educating about annuities and insurance products. Still, he has also played an instrumental role in training financial advisors for a prestigious Fortune Global 500 insurance company, Allianz. His insights and expertise have made him a sought-after voice in the industry, leading to features in renowned publications such as Time Magazine, Bloomberg, Entrepreneur, Yahoo! Finance, MSN, SmartAsset, The Simple Dollar, U.S. News and World Report, Women’s Health Magazine, and many more. Shawn’s driving ambition? To simplify retirement planning, he ensures his clients understand their choices and secure the best insurance coverage at unbeatable rates.

The Annuity Expert is an independent online insurance agency servicing consumers across the United States. The goal is to help you take the guesswork out of retirement planning and find the best insurance coverage at the cheapest rates

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