How Simultaneous Deaths Are Dealt With in Estate Planning

When creating a will, the assumption is that your assets will be distributed to your spouse, children, grandchildren, or other loved ones after your death. However, accidents and crimes can claim several lives at once in the case of a crime or severe accident. Whatever the circumstances of these tragic deaths are, they can present serious estate planning problems unless precautions are taken ahead of time.

Simultaneous Deaths Estate Planning

How Are Most Estates Drafted?

Most couples hold their property in joint tenancy. When one spouse dies, the estate is passed down to the surviving spouse free of any estate taxes. Each spouse is usually named as the beneficiary of the other’s retirement accounts, individual retirement account, and life insurance policies, so these will bypass probate. However, the joint tenancy approach fails to work well if a couple dies simultaneously, or under circumstances where it can’t be determined who died first. Often times, a will may have a titanic clause, which gives specific instructions on how to handle the simultaneous death of two spouses.

What is the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act?

In order to alleviate the problems that come with simultaneous deaths among spouses, many states in the United States, including New York passed The Uniform Simultaneous Death Act. This act ensures that each spouse will be treated as though they predeceased the other spouse, so long as the deaths fall between 120 hours (five days) of each other unless a specific clause in the will is inserted to deal with this possibility.

Other Ways To Deal With Simultaneous Deaths:

The most common way to deal with the simultaneous death situation is to add a survivorship clause in the will. The clause may state something such as: "If any beneficiary under this will dies within sixty (60) days after my death, they shall be deemed to have predeceased me." Under this type of provision, a person is presumed to have predeceased the testator if they are not alive 60 days after the predecessor’s death. A survivorship clause addresses simultaneous deaths as well as dual probate situations, one example being when a father dies at the scene of an accident and the son survives but dies at the hospital the next day. The family could have to deal with the probate process once for the father’s estate, and once again for the son’s assets since a majority were inherited from his father. It’s important to remember that a dual probate situation can occur even when there isn't necessarily an accident.

What Happens If A Couple Dies Simultaneously But Intestate?

When someone dies intestate, or without a will, their property is distributed according to the New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL). The intestacy law found in the EPTL declares rules and regulations on what to do if a couple dies without making a will. If both spouses die simultaneously, but intestate, their estate is distributed evenly among their children.

If you or a loved one are looking to draft your own estate plan and make sure that your assets are properly distributed in any scenario, we highly recommend that you consult with a licensed estate planning professional who will help you make sure that your assets are left to your intended beneficiaries.