Monday, October 6, 2014

How is an estate handled when a couple dies at the same time?

Q: What happens to estates when a married couple dies at the same time?
A: It depends.

Most states, including Michigan, have adopted some form of the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act. (Michigan's version is in the Estates and Protected Individuals Code, aka EPIC, since Michigan loves to give acronyms to the things it writes in legislative code.)

The Uniform Simultaneous Death Act is a uniform act enacted in some U.S. states to alleviate the problem of simultaneous death in determining inheritance.

The Act specifies that, if two or more people die within 120 hours of one another, and no will or other document provides for this situation explicitly, each is considered to have predeceased the others.

More information here (Wikipedia article) and here (Michigan legislative service).

For example, John and Mary are a retired couple who take a bus trip, and die an untimely death en route to their destination. Who will inherit the estate of Mary, Mary's family? or John's? What if John dies on the bus, but Mary lives in the hospital, and dies from complications one day later? Because if Mary died first, her estate would become John's, who then has the larger estate, (see the problem?) And: would an heir then "take" twice, once from the first to die, and a second time from the second to die?

The law, in the form of the Simultaneous Death Act, takes care of both problems. It determines for all those wondering who died first that they both died first. In this way, both sides of the family will take from their decedent's estate only one time.

Have other questions about how Michigan law treats your property when you die? Ask me! One of my specialty areas of law is estate planning, which includes wills and trusts. 

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