Including a simultaneous death clause in an estate plan

Most people in New Jersey do not expect to die at the same time as their spouses. Therefore, estate plans may not take the possibility of simultaneous death into account. However, fatal car accidents and other tragedies can result in two family members dying at the same time, and these events may complicate the deceased parties' estate plans.

People with intertwined estates, such as married spouses, should include a simultaneous death clause in their estate plans. In the event that determining who died first is impossible, the simultaneous death clause will ensure that the deceased parties' assets go in a preplanned direction. The goal of a simultaneous death clause is to avoid the possibility that intestacy laws will be used to determine where a couple's assets go.

When a couple's estate plan has no simultaneous death clause, a probate court may be allowed to disperse each spouse's assets to their beneficiaries as though each spouse had died first. In other words, the wife's heirs will receive her assets, and the husband's heirs will receive his assets. A court may decide to divide assets in this way even if two spouses die within a few days of each other.

An estate planning attorney may be able to help a married couple create an estate plan that takes every possible scenario into account. With proper planning, a couple won't have to worry about their estate being divided based on intestacy laws. If a couple has children from other marriages, planning for unexpected scenarios such as simultaneous death may be especially important.

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