Perhaps you’ve heard the recent, tragic story of a teenage boy and his parents that drowned in the waters near San Francisco. The boy had jumped into the water to try and save the family dog after it had been swept out to sea by a wave; then, his parents rushed into the water to save their son, after he too began to struggle. Among other things, this story serves as a sad reminder that spouses do not always die at different times. So how does the law deal with instances of simultaneous death? For that matter, what does the law consider to be “simultaneous”?
How the law deals with simultaneous death of spouses depends upon whether the decedents had created a will prior to their passing, as well as what is contained therein. If wills were in place, then the question becomes whether the language of the wills contained a “common disaster” clause, which specifies a length of time that the other spouse must surpass in order to take, as well as how the decedent’s property is to be devised if the spouse should do so. If the clause requires survival of at least 30 days and the spouse dies after 25 days, that death will be deemed “simultaneous” and the property will pass to other beneficiaries.
If there’s no will then the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act (“USDA”), which has been adopted in most states, provides that the surviving spouse must live 120-hours longer than the decedent or else the deaths are deemed to be simultaneous.