What Happens When There are Simultaneous Deaths?
Simultaneous death is a problem of inheritance that happens when two people die at the same or very near times, when at least one of them is entitled to part or all of the other’s estate upon the other’s death. These types of deaths usually happen from unnatural causes like an accident, homicide or murder-suicide.
So, what happens is spouses die either at the exact same time or very close to each other?
Simultaneous deaths become tricky when it comes to wills and estates because when people create a will, the assumption is that their assets will be distributed to their spouse, children, grandchildren and so on. But, when an accident or other unnatural cause of death happens and claims multiple lives at once, it can create some issues when it comes to estate planning, unless precautions are taken and planned for ahead of time.
How most estates are drafted
Most married couples hold their property in joint tenancy. When one spouse dies, the estate is passed down to the surviving spouse without any estate taxes. Each spouse is named as the beneficiary of the other’s retirement accounts, individual retirement account, and life insurance policies. This allows them to bypass probate court. But, the joint tenancy approach does not work as well when a couple dies simultaneously, or under circumstances where it is impossible to determine who died first. Often times, specific instructions are given in a will that detail what to do if simultaneous death happens between the two spouses, this is often referred to as the Titanic Clause.
Uniform Simultaneous Death Act
In order to ease the burden of the issues that come with simultaneous deaths among spouses, many states, including New York have passed the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act. This ensures that each spouse will be treated as if they died before the other spouse, as long as the deaths happen within five days of one another and unless a specific clause is in the will to deal with this possibility in another way.
The Uniform Simultaneous Death Act was first enacted in 1940 and has been revised since then. Most states adopted the law but only 19 states enacted the amended version. One of the amendments allows the law to be applied to people who are missing for at least five years, in the event that a body is not found and the person is presumed dead.
Other ways to deal with simultaneous deaths
The most common way to deal with simultaneous deaths is to add a survivorship clause to the will. This clause states something to the effect of “If any beneficiary under this will dies within 60 days after my death, they will be deemed to have predeceased me.” Under this kind of provision, a person is presumed to have predeceased the other if they are not alive 60 days after the predecessor’s death. situations.
When somebody dies without a will it is called intestate. When this happens, their property is distributed according to the New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (EPTL). According to the EPTL, if two people die simultaneously, they are assumed to die before one another unless proven otherwise. If both parents die simultaneously and intestate, for example, their estate is distributed among their children.
Summary of simultaneous deaths
- The Uniform Simultaneous Death Act is a law used in certain states, including New York, to determine inheritance in cases where two or more people die around the same time.
- The assets of two or more people who die within 120 hours of one another without a will can be passed down to their relatives instead of from one estate to the other.
- The act gets rid of any double administrative costs.
- Without the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act, two probates would be needed to process the transfer of estates before the assets could be distributed.
Simultaneous deaths are another reason why it is so important that you have a will and other estate planning documents prepared. If you or your loved ones are looking to draft your will, feel free to get in touch with us at the Law Offices of Kyle A. Steller. We specialize in elder law, estate planning and asset protection and can help guide you through the complex process of planning your will.
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