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Planning for the Worst: Estate Advice for Simultaneous Deaths

A lot of assumptions go into creating wills. After all, drawing up plans to distribute your assets to your partner, children, or other loved ones hinges on the presumption that you will be the first to pass. Unfortunately, though, accidents and crimes sometimes claim multiple lives at once. On occasion, loved ones may die in close proximity to one another. Without proper preparation, such a situation could throw your carefully laid estate plans for a loop.

While most people can benefit from detailed estate planning, succession planning becomes even more important for parents, high net worth individuals, and those in second marriages. As you develop your plans, keep the following in mind:

Simultaneous Death Clauses

When an accident involving people with intertwined estates has occurred, it can be impossible to determine who died first. As a result, there may be some confusion over who inherits what. Simultaneous death clauses provide clarification for such situations. They specify which person should be deemed to have died first – an important factor when considering estate taxes and the direction of their bequests.

Fail to craft a simultaneous death clause, and your estate could be subject to the Uniform Simultaneous Death Acts that many states have put into place. Generally speaking, if two people die within 120 hours of each other and no estate plans have accounted for such a situation, each individual is considered to have predeceased the other.

What does this look like in practical terms? Let’s say a married couple dies in a car accident but have no simultaneous death clauses in their estate plans. In such a situation, the husband’s other heirs would receive his estate as though his wife had predeceased him, and the wife’s heirs would receive her estate as though her husband had died first.

Multiple Probate Cases

Simultaneous deaths mean going through multiple probate cases at the same time. This frequently results in delays and additional expenses for surviving family members. That’s especially true when both partners list each other as their sole beneficiaries. Without a survivorship requirement in their wills, the law requires separate probate cases to administer the estates. If the wife died first, for instance, her property would be transferred to her husband’s estate because he survived her by hours. After her probate case is finalized, the husband’s will could transfer property to surviving heirs.

Probate can be a lengthy, expensive process. It can be incredibly stressful for grieving loved ones. To go through it twice in a row can be especially difficult. By arranging for a simultaneous death clause, families can mitigate many of the most common pain points, allowing loved ones to focus on their emotional wellbeing rather than their financial picture.

Titanic Clauses

It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which all your heirs might predecease you – or die in the same incident. Sadly, natural disasters, accidents, and crimes claim the lives of families and their loved ones all the time. If such an incident happens to you and your family, do you know where your assets will wind up? Even the most thorough estate plans with three or four heirs listed can fall short in such situations.

You may want to consider listing a favorite charity, academic institution, or nonprofit in your will for true worst-case scenarios like these. That is especially true if you prefer your assets to go to such organizations over a very distant relative. By listing your preferences in advance, you ensure your assets are distributed in accordance with your values and priorities.

Review Your Estate Plan

If you are feeling uncertain about what might happen to your assets and family should you and your partner pass at the same time, begin by reviewing your will or trust documentation. A simultaneous death provision may already exist in your estate plans. If you can’t find evidence of such plans, you may want to research your state’s law surrounding such incidents. While many places have Uniform Simultaneous Death Acts in place, not all states have enacted such legislation. Of course, meeting with an experienced estate planning attorney can also clarify your rights and options for surviving family members and loved ones.

To put a plan in place to protect your estate from simultaneous deaths or to get your existing plan reviewed by an experienced estate planning attorney, contact our office today by calling (281) 885-8826 or schedule online here.

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