Suppose you and your spouse die in the same car accident. What would happen to your respective estates? Would it make a difference if one of you died instantly and the other a few hours later at the hospital? What if one or both of you did not have a Will?
Several states have adopted the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act (USDA) to address these issues. Other states have incorporated similar provisions into their general probate laws. The USDA provides a 120-hour timeframe to prove one person survived another for inheritance purposes. In other words, if Steve and Carol, a married couple, get into a car accident and both die within 120 hours of one another, both are legally presumed to have died first.
This is important because let’s say Steve does survive Carol. If Carol dies without a Will or any children, then Steve inherits her entire estate. If Steve dies shortly thereafter, then Carol’s assets must be transferred a second time to Steve’s heirs. The USDA avoids this second transfer by assuming Steve and Carol each died before the other, meaning their estates are transferred directly to their respective heirs.
The USDA may apply even if you have a Will. Your Will can specify whether you or your spouse should be presumed to have died first in the event of a common accident. Preferring one spouse over the other can have estate tax implications that you should discuss with a qualified Estate Planning attorney.