J. Kelly Kennedy, Attorney/CPA, PLLC

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What legal issues can arise from simultaneous death?

Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, some of which can result in a variety of strange consequences. When it comes to life and death, everyone knows that he or she will die someday, but the cause and time of death are virtually impossible to know with any certainty. This is one of the reasons why it is important for people to execute a last will and testament sooner rather than later, just in case.

But even if a person has a will, and other estate planning documents, extraordinary events could still impact the disposition of the person's estate beyond what may have been foreseeable when the estate plan was drafted. For example, what happens when a testator and heir simultaneously die? Although this may sound like an unlikely occurrence, it could happen in the event of an automobile accident, a natural disaster or some other unexpected event.

While it is not only a tragedy for two people to die suddenly together like this, it can also create some legal issues with regard to estate administration and planning. For instance, if an adult child is the heir to a parent's estate, but both the parent and child die together in an accident, how do their estates get distributed?

Florida's Simultaneous Death Law applies when two people die and their order of death cannot be determined. Under these circumstances, the law treats each person's assets as if he or she outlived the other person. Thus, in the case of the parent and child dying together, the parent's assets would pass on to any other heirs designated in the parent's will, and the child's assets would go to any heirs that were provided for in his or her estate plan.

One of the important ideas that the Simultaneous Death Law underscores is the need for people to have contingent heirs or beneficiaries in case something happens to the primary beneficiary. In the example of the parent and child dying in the same incident, this means that a probate court would have to decide how to distribute the parent's assets, in accordance with Florida's intestacy laws, if the parent's estate planning documents had not designated a contingent heir. The possibility of simultaneous death, as remote as it may be, is one consideration that people in Polk County may want to account for when setting up or revising their estate plans.

Source: 2016 Florida Statutes, "Simultaneous Death Law," Accessed on Jan. 10, 2017

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