Simultaneous Death


Also found in: Wikipedia.

Simultaneous Death

Loss of life by two or more individuals concurrently or pursuant to circumstances that render it impossible to ascertain who predeceased whom.

The issue of who died first frequently arises in cases determining the inheritance of property from spouses who die simultaneously. Generally the answer must be derived from all the surrounding circumstances. At Common Law, the law would not intervene and make the assumption that one individual or another had died first but would await proof, no matter how slight that might be. Since this created a problem when no satisfactory proof existed, various states enacted statutes allowing judges to presume that one individual survived another under certain circumstances.

Because those state statutes that created presumptions proved inadequate, a majority of the states enacted the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act. Although some slight variations exist from one state to another, the law essentially provides that property will be inherited or distributed as if each person had outlived the other. This prevents the property from passing into the estate of a second person who is already deceased only to be distributed immediately from that estate, a wasteful procedure that precipitates additional legal proceedings, costs, and estate taxes.

The Simultaneous Death Act cannot be applied if evidence exists that one individual outlived the other. The act only applies when it cannot be determined who died first. Ordinarily the persons involved need not have died in a common disaster but might have died in different places and under different circumstances, and it still might be impossible to prove that one survived the other. A 1985 Illinois case provides an example of where Simultaneous Death Act was held inapplicable because the court found it possible to ascertain who died first.

Janus v. Tarasewicz, 135 Ill.App.3d 936, 482 N.E.2d 418, 90 Ill.Dec. 599 (Ill.App. 1 Dist. 1985) arose out of a freakish series of events that began in the Chicago area in 1982. Adam Janus unluckily purchased a bottle of Tylenol capsules that had been laced with cyanide by an unknown perpetrator prior to its sale at retail. On the evening of September 29, 1982, the day of Adam's death, his brother, Stanley Janus, and Stanley's wife, Theresa Janus, having just returned from their honeymoon, gathered in mourning at Adam's home with other family members. Not yet knowing how Adam died, Stanley and Theresa innocently compounded the tragedy by taking some of the contaminated capsules themselves. Upon their arrival at the intensive care unit of a hospital emergency room, neither showed visible vital signs. Hospital personnel never succeeded in establishing any spontaneous blood pressure, pulse, or signs of respiration in Stanley and pronounced him dead. Hospital personnel did succeed in establishing a measurable, though unsatisfactory, blood pressure in Theresa. Although she had very unstable vital signs, remained in a coma, and had fixed and dilated pupils, she was placed on a mechanical respirator and remained on the respirator for two days before she was pronounced dead on October 1, 1982.

Stanley had a $100,000 life-insurance policy that named Theresa as primary beneficiary and his mother, Alojza Janus, as contingent beneficiary. The 1953 version of the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act, in force in Illinois, provides that if there is no sufficient evidence that the insured and beneficiary have died otherwise than simultaneously, the proceeds of the policy shall be distributed as if the insured had survived the beneficiary. The Illinois Court of Appeals held the act to be inapplicable because a preponderance of the evidence established that Theresa survived Stanley, albeit by only a couple of days. The result: the proceeds of Stanley's $100,000 policy did not go to his mother, Alojza, as contingent beneficiary, but to Theresa's father, Jan Tarasewicz, as administrator of her estate.

Further readings

Johnson, J. Rodney. 1994. "The New Uniform Simultaneous Death Act." Probate & Property 8 (May-June).

Waggoner, Lawrence W. 1994. "The Revised Uniform Probate Code." Trusts & Estates (May 1).

Cross-references

Death and Dying; Estate and Gift Taxes.

References in periodicals archive ?
Two years ago the Harvard Business Review announced the simultaneous death of Solution Selling with the birth of Insight Selling.
Amnesty International said it was the "largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences we've seen in recent years, not just in Egypt but anywhere in the world," and called for the verdicts to be quashed.
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy Middle East and North Africa programme director at Amnesty International, said: "This is the largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences we've seen in recent years, not just in Egypt but anywhere in the world.
Thus Kristeva situates the simultaneous death of the symbolic order and the subject at a bio-psychical border whose fluctuations, originary source of the subject's experience of pleasure and pain, end in "nirvana.
Chapters cover such topics as Power of Attorney Act, International Wills Act, Intestacy, Wills and Donative Transfers, Nonprobate Transfers on Death Act, Trustee Powers Act, Simultaneous Death Act and TOD Security Registration Act.
As additional protection, in particular against the case of simultaneous death of the joint accountholders, the account should be established as "in trust for" (ITF) one or more named beneficiaries.
The simultaneous death of Negro Story magazine and the birth of a newly political African American literature to which it clearly helped give rise indicates in microcosm ways in which the story of black literary activism in the 1940s is still to be uncovered through careful rereading of heretofore neglected sources.
Simultaneous death language caused an additional tax liability.
A decedent's estate was denied the prior transfer tax credit under a simultaneous death provision.
In 1987, the simultaneous deaths of WaUingford and Brent Collins, the beloved actor who portrayed him, not only occasioned an outpouring of grief from the show's characters.
The couple died a few hours apart in October 1587 after 11 days of agony and their almost simultaneous deaths led to speculation that they had been murdered.
Best remembered for his American Pie - partly inspired by the simultaneous deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper - his other "big" numbers include Vincent (Starry, Starry Night), And I Love You So, Castles In The Air and Crying.
Full browser ?