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Sacramento Estate Planning Attorney

How does the California Probate Code address simultaneous deaths?


We've probably all heard of tragic situations in which a husband and wife are both killed in an auto accident or a plane crash. This can create estate administration issues if it cannot be established which of them died first. Fortunately, the California Probate Code has provisions addressing this situation.

In California, if a person has the right to inherit property if he or she survives another person, but if it is impossible to determine by clear and convincing evidence which of the two died first, each person's property is distributed as if they had survived the other person. This avoids the scenario where property must pass from the estate of one deceased parent to the estate of another deceased parent before it can be distributed to other heirs.

In a case involving the simultaneous death of a husband and wife who owned community or quasi-community property, California law provides that half of the property in question is distributed as if one spouse survived and that half was his or her property, and the other half is distributed as if the other spouse survived and was the owner of that other half.

There is an important exception to these rules, however. If the decedents in question had provisions in their wills or trusts addressing the possibility of a simultaneous death situation, those provisions will govern. Each spouse's will or trust can specify that one spouse will be deemed to have died first in the event the order of deaths cannot be determined by clear and convincing evidence. Deciding which spouse should be deemed to have survived the other will depend on the couple's particular situation and their wishes. An experienced estate planning attorney may be able to help with these and other difficult questions.

Source: Cal. Prob. Code ยงยง 220-21, accessed May 29, 2016

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My Sacramento law practice, Michael A. Sawamura, Attorney at Law, focuses on wills, trusts and estate planning law in addition to business law and corporate defense services. My clients include professionals, government employees, small businesses, blue-collar workers and national corporations.

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