It’s a horrible prospect, a husband and wife dying at the same time, but when accidents occur, particularly vehicular accidents, unfortunately it can happen. While the tragedy is obvious, what happens in terms of estates and probate, particularly when a couple names each other as beneficiaries of the other’s estate?
To address this issue, most states, including Ohio, have enacted the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act. This Act states that if a person is not established by ‘clear and convincing evidence’ to have survived another specified person by one hundred twenty hours they are considered to have predeceased, or died before, the other person.
This Act is often applied when a person or persons die intestate, meaning without a will, as when a will or other estate planning document provides for this situation, the Act does not apply.
The Uniform Simultaneous Death Act covers situations where the title or transfer of property depends on the order of death, such as in certain forms of ownership of real estate. It also applies in determining the disposal of property, and each deceased person is considered to have survived the other, and an insured individual is considered to have survived a beneficiary when it comes to life insurance policies unless the policy provides otherwise.
With the other spouse presumed to be gone already, nothing would go from one dead spouse to another, which would then necessitate another probate and transfer to other heirs or beneficiaries. If there is no will, property is distributed according to the state law of intestacy, which determines the distribution of property according to the relationship to the deceased.
The Uniform Act does not specify who gets what property, as it deals with the order of death only. Once that is determined, state law or the will takes over to control the actual distribution of property.
Estate planning allows you to control what happens to your estate in many situations, rather than allowing a law to dictate the details of the distribution, so it’s important that you work with your estate planning lawyer to make contingency plans for situations such as a tragic accident.