Person or entity (e.g., a charity or estate) that receives a benefit from something (e.g., a trust, life-insurance policy, or contract). A primary beneficiary receives proceeds from a trust or insurance policy before any other. A contingent beneficiary receives proceeds upon the occurrence of a specified event, such as the death of the primary beneficiary. A direct beneficiary is a third party whom contracting individuals intend to benefit from a contract; an incidental beneficiary benefits without that being the contracting individuals' intention.
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Most beneficiaries, may be designed to designate where the assets will go once the owner(s) ceases to exist. However, if the primary beneficiary or beneficiaries are not alive or do not qualify under the restrictions, then the assets will likely pass to the contingent beneficiaries. Other restrictions such as being married or more creative ones can be used by a benefactor to attempt to control the behavior of the beneficiaries. Some situations such as retirement accounts do not allow any restrictions beyond death of the primary beneficiaries, but trusts allow any restrictions that are not illegal or for an illegal purpose.
The concept of a "beneficiary" will also frequently figure in contracts other than insurance policies. A third party beneficiary of a contract is a person who, although not a party to the contract, the parties intend will benefit from its provisions. A software distributor, for example, may seek provisions protecting its customers from infringement claims. A software licensor may include provisions in its agreements which protect those who provided code to that licensor.