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Don’t Leave Without Me: Florida’s Simultaneous Death Laws

simultaneous death

In our business, trusts and estate law, we must anticipate some of the more difficult and heart-rending situations.

Like simultaneous death.

However unlikely, such tragedies do occur.

One heartbreaking example of this is the Champlain Towers condominium collapse that occurred in South Florida in 2021, claiming the lives of 98 people. Entire families—husbands and wives, children, grandparents—all died in the collapse. In one night, in a matter of hours.

Most of the time, married couples set up their estate plans to leave everything to their surviving spouse.

But what happens in the case of simultaneous death?

What happens when a tragedy like the Champlain Towers collapse ends the lives of husbands and wives and their beneficiaries?

Especially when it is impossible to determine who died first.

The answer depends, of course, on state law and an individual’s estate plan.

Florida’s Statute on Simultaneous Death

If simultaneous death has not been anticipated in a comprehensive estate plan, then Florida law requires that the property of each individual be disposed of as if she or he had been the survivor.

This law prevents the unnecessary burden of requiring two separate probate administrations.

If each spouse leaves their property to the other spouse and dies simultaneously, Florida’s simultaneous death law allows each spouse to be treated as if they were the surviving spouse. This may not make sense at first blush, but it prevents unnecessary estate administration.

In other words, it prevents a situation where, in a simultaneous death, the wife’s estate is administered simply to determine that she left everything to the husband, and then the husband’s estate is administered simply to determine that he left everything to the wife. Instead, because each spouse is treated as if he/she survived, their assets can simply be distributed to their heirs or beneficiaries in accordance with their estate plans.

Note, however, that the law applies only if there is “insufficient evidence” to disprove simultaneous death. If there is some proof that one person died first, but it is not sufficient — then the court may apply the simultaneous death statute.

But What About Survivorship Clauses in a Will?

Most well-drafted Wills (“Last Will and Testament”) and Revocable Living Trusts (“Trusts”) will contain survivorship clauses in them.

There are generally two types of survivorship clauses. One addresses how long a beneficiary must outlive the testator to inherit, and the other addresses the simultaneous death situation between spouses.

Unlike other states, Florida does not require that a beneficiary survive a testator by a specific amount of time.

One way of addressing the situation of a beneficiary predeceasing the testator is by naming alternative beneficiaries. But having a survivorship clause in a Will or trust can also be a good idea.

Survivorship clauses generally require a beneficiary to outlive a testator by a certain amount of time— frequently 30, 60, or 90 days. These clauses state what should happen if the beneficiary fails to survive the testator by that amount of time. Having a survivorship clause like this allows the testator (or trustmaker) to be the one to decide where their assets should go if a beneficiary should predecease them—and not the intestacy laws. This way, an individual’s estate plan can help to ensure that a decedent’s assets pass to their intended beneficiaries.

Survivorship clauses can also address the simultaneous death situation between spouses. They do this by specifying who is to be considered the surviving spouse in the case of a simultaneous death.

Protecting against simultaneous death is an important part of estate planning because disputes over who died first can lead to litigation regarding inheritance.

Helping Florida Families Prepare for the Future.  

At SJF Law Group, you get more than just an estate plan: you get peace of mind. Our Fort Lauderdale estate planning attorneys work hard to ensure your wishes will be followed and your loved ones taken care of when you are gone. Our estate lawyers serve Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach County. Connect with us on Facebook or Instagram or email us at: [email protected] today.

 

 

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