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The Importance Of “Survivorship” In Administering A Florida Probate Estate


There are certain situations where two or more related individuals, such as spouses, may die at the same time. How does this affect the administration of their estates? Does it legally matter who died first chronologically?

Let’s first address why “survivorship” matters in a probate context. Most wills contain language requiring a named beneficiary to survive the testator by a certain period of time to receive their inheritance. For example, say Kristen makes a will leaving $50,000 to her brother Jamie. This gift is conditional on Jamie surviving Kristen by at least 60 days. So if Jamie and Kristen were both killed in the same car accident, Jamie’s estate would not receive the $50,000 from Kristen’s estate due to the survivorship requirement.

Florida’s Simultaneous Death Law

Now let’s consider a scenario where two spouses make wills leaving their respective estates to one another. The couple then dies in a common accident but it is not clear who actually died first. In this scenario, Section 732.601 of the Florida Statutes comes into play. This is Florida’s “Simultaneous Death Law.”

In the event of a simultaneous death, the law states that “the property of each person shall be disposed of as if that person survived.” That is, each spouse’s estate must be administered under the assumption that the other spouse died first. This is to avoid a potential paradox.

In other words, say Frances and Louise were married. They were then both killed in a hurricane and it cannot be determined who died first. Florida’s Simultaneous Death Law therefore assumes that for the purposes of administering Frances’ estate, Louise died first. Conversely, when administering Louise’s estate, Frances died first. This means each estate will be distributed to any alternate contingent beneficiaries named in the respective wills. Neither estate will inherit from the other estate.

Contact a Pompano Beach Estate and Trust Litigation Attorney Today

It is generally good practice when making a will (or trust) to name one or more alternate beneficiaries in the event your primary beneficiary dies before or at the same time as you. For instance, if your spouse is named as the beneficiary of your will, you might wish to name your children or siblings as alternate beneficiaries. Absent such designations, any property remaining in a probate estate will go into the “residue” of that estate and may ultimately be distributed under Florida’s intestate succession law to your next of kin.

Keep in mind, while Florida law can help resolve potential disputes when a person has no will or trust, it is not a perfect substitute for having an estate plan. If you need further advice in this area or are involved in a beneficiary dispute, contact the offices of Mark R. Manceri, P.A., today to schedule a consultation.



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