What Is the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act?

The Uniform Simultaneous Death Act is a law used to determine the inheritance when more than one death occurs at the same time. The act states that if two or more people died simultaneously due to an accident within a 120-hour survival period, with no will, their assets are to be passed to the relatives rather than from one estate to another. This act is used to avoid double administrative costs.

Uniform Simultaneous Death Act Explained

For example, if a husband and wife are involved in a plane crash, with one pronounced dead at the scene and the other dying one day later, the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act would be enacted. In this case, the assets are combined and distributed to the relatives of both individuals equally, rather than all assets being transferred first to the estate of the one who died one day later and all the assets being distributed only to that person's relative(s).

Changes the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act Has Introduced

Without the law, the two probates would be necessary to process the transferal of estates before the assets could be distributed. The law was first enacted in 1940 has been revised in subsequent years. For example, a proviso introduced in 1993 allowed this law to be applied to individuals who have been missing for at least five years, with no body found, and presumed dead.

It is possible that an individual’s will may contain language that alters or eliminates the application of this rule. Furthermore, 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 details from that document would go into effect. For example, an individual’s will might detail specifically 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 required 120-hour survival period to multiple governing instruments could also be ignored if its application would have adverse effects, such as an unintended failure or duplication of a disposition. Survival, however, must still be established with convincing and clear evidence.

This law has been enacted by most states in the U.S. The latest version of the law, updated in 1993, was enacted by 19 states. Other states adopted the updated law as part of the Uniform Probate Code.