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Naming multiple life insurance beneficiaries

Feb 9, 2021 4 Minute Read

Life insurance is there to protect your nearest and dearest financially. But what if that includes multiple people?

Life insurance supports your loved ones by helping them pay regular expenses, cover debts, and save for the future. That’s why choosing the right beneficiary (or beneficiaries) is key. Here’s how you can make sure that funds go to the people who matter most.

Can you name more than one beneficiary?

One of the most important parts of buying a policy is choosing a beneficiary, meaning the person or organization that will receive the life insurance payout. You’re required to name at least one beneficiary, but you can choose more if you like. Naming multiple beneficiaries is pretty common and can help ensure that the life insurance payout goes where you want it to go, even if a loved one dies before you.

There are two main kinds of beneficiaries: primary and secondary. Primary beneficiaries are the people who receive the money first, and secondary beneficiaries receive the money if none of the primary beneficiaries can. In both cases, you can name several life insurance beneficiaries and split the payout amount among them.

Per Capita vs. Per Stirpes

Wondering how to divide up life insurance? For people with large families, there are a couple of typical approaches to make sure that your life insurance covers multiple beneficiaries:

  • Per capita: This approach divides the benefit equally among all of the named living beneficiaries, including children, grandchildren, and other individuals.
  • Per stirpes: This method splits your life insurance payout by generations, with members of each generation dividing part of the payout equally among them.

If one of your beneficiaries dies, the per capita vs. per stirpes method will determine how your remaining beneficiaries split the payout. Consider an example where your three children are named as beneficiaries:

  • In per capita assignments, both the beneficiaries and the children of a deceased beneficiary receive equal parts of the payment. If one of your children passes away before you, then your two remaining children and the three children of your deceased child would each receive one-fifth of the payout.
  • With a per stirpes assignment, the children of your deceased child would split their parent’s part of the payout. Your two remaining children would each receive one-third of the payout, and your deceased child’s three children would each receive one-ninth of the payout.

This can get complex, so talk with your insurance company or financial advisor about your options.

What Happens if You Have Multiple Beneficiaries and One Dies?

It’s typically a good idea to name at least one backup in case the first beneficiary passes away. The money always goes to the primary beneficiary, then the secondary.

There are a few potential scenarios to consider:

  • If you have one primary beneficiary and one secondary and the primary beneficiary dies, then the payout goes to the secondary beneficiary.
  • If you have two primary beneficiaries and one dies, then the remaining beneficiary receives the full amount.
  • If you have no living beneficiaries, then your money goes back to your estate.

Still have questions or want more information about multiple beneficiaries life insurance?

We’re here to help. eFinancial works with top-rated life insurance companies to help you find the right coverage for you and your family. Call us or start your quote online today.


At eFinancial, our goal is to make life insurance simple, affordable, and understandable for everyday families. This content is intended for educational purposes only. Each post is carefully fact-checked, reviewed and updated regularly to ensure the information is as relevant as possible.