The Simultaneous Death Act

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We attempt to provide for every contingency in a will. When we plan for the future, we contemplate our own death as well of the death of our spouse. We then try and provide for some alternatives depending on who should pass first. But what happens if both spouses pass at the same time?

Many states, including North Carolina, have adopted the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act. The Act provides that if spouses die within 120 hours of one another, each spouse will be treated as if he or she were the survivor. This means that nothing is passed between the spouses’ estates. In other words, neither of the spouses inherit anything from the other. Their property would then pass to the beneficiaries, other than their spouse, as set forth in their will. If alternative heirs are not contemplated by the will, the property passes by intestate succession.

This also applies to survivorship property and life insurance policies. If the beneficiary dies within 120 hours of the principal’s death, the property/life insurance proceeds do not pass to the beneficiary’s estate. Survivorship property includes real property, trusts, payable on death accounts, and really anything to which you can assign a beneficiary.

The benefit of planning ahead is that you can provide for these contingencies in your will or governing instrument. Your will can dictate how your property will pass if your spouse’s death occurs simultaneously with your own, you can have your deed determine who will get your real property of the holder of the survivorship interest passes along with you, and you can designate alternative beneficiaries on your life insurance policy.

The thing about planning for the future is that it must be practical. Car wrecks, tornadoes, and communicable illnesses are all examples of common disasters that could result in the simultaneous death of two spouses. Unfortunately, disasters causing simultaneous death are not uncommon. And if your will or governing instrument does not provide otherwise, the manner in which your property will pass will be dictated by the state.

You should make sure that your will or governing instruments continue to be in line with your estate plan in the event of a simultaneous death.


Brenton Begley

Elder Law Attorney

McIntyre Elder Law

“We help seniors maintain their lifestyle and preserve their legacies.”

Phone: 704-998-5800

Fax: 866-908-1278

112 S. Tryon St.

Suite 760

Charlotte, NC 28202

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