What Is the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act?

The term Uniform Simultaneous Death Act refers to a law used in some states to determine inheritance in cases where two or more people die around the same time. According to the act, the assets of two or more people who have no will and die within a 120-hour period can be passed down to their relatives rather than from one estate to another. This act is used to avoid double administrative costs.

Key Takeaways

  • The Uniform Simultaneous Death Act is a law used in some states to determine inheritance in cases where two or more people die around the same time.
  • The assets of two or more people who die within a 120-hour period without a will can be passed down to their relatives rather than from one estate to another.
  • The act eliminates any double administrative costs.
  • Without the law, two probates would be needed to process the transfer of estates before the assets are distributed.

How the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act Works

The Uniform Simultaneous Death Act was first enacted in 1940 and has been revised in subsequent years. Most states adopted the law in the U.S., while only 21 states and the District of Columbia have enacted the revised version, which was updated to include certain provisions in 1993. One of these amendments allowed the law to be applied to individuals who are missing for at least five years, in the event that a body can't be located and the person is presumed dead.

Someone who dies without leaving a will is said to be intestate. When someone dies in intestacy, it's up to a probate court to decide how the estate is administered. The Uniform Simultaneous Death Act helps heirs avoid this step by clarifying issues surrounding inheritance when two or more people die without leaving wills.

Here's how it works. Let's say a husband and wife are involved in a plane crash. If one is pronounced dead at the scene and the other dies a day later, the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act goes into effect. In this case, the assets are combined and distributed to the relatives of both individuals equally, rather than transferring all the assets first to the estate of the wife and then to all of her relatives.

Without the law, two probates would be necessary to process the transfer of estates before the assets are distributed. Probate is the general process used to administer the will of a deceased person or the estate of an individual who doesn't leave a will behind. Probate costs can be rather high, deflating the value of an inheritance when the estates of two spouses are involved. The Uniform Simultaneous Death Act helps cut down the administrative costs related to the probate process.

Special Considerations

It is possible that a person’s will contains language that alters or eliminates the application of the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act. As such, clauses in the act such as the 120-hour survival period requirement may be waived under a variety of conditions. If a will, deed, trust, insurance policy, or other governing instruments include language that expressly addresses simultaneous deaths or deaths in a common incident, the provisions from that document would go into effect. For example, an individual’s last will and testament may specifically detail how to direct the release of particular assets in the event of a simultaneous death with their spouse, or if their deaths occur within a set time frame of each other.

The 120-hour waiting period may be waived if there are any governing documents discuss simultaneous deaths or if its application has adverse effects.

The required 120-hour survival period as prescribed by the act may also be ignored if its application has adverse effects. This includes instances involving an unintended failure or duplication of a disposition. Survival, however, must still be established with convincing and clear evidence.

Uniform Simultaneous Death Act vs. Uniform Probate Code

While 21 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act as law, others have enacted all or parts of the Uniform Probate Code as law. This code governs inheritance and the estates of deceased parties by providing uniformity to the probate process. The UPC was first promulgate in 1969. The code is made up of several articles that cover issues surrounding the death of individuals without a will, the probate of wills, how to administer estates, nonprobate property transfers, and other related topics.