Complications from Simultaneous Deaths
In Ontario, if two people die at the same time or in circumstances rendering it uncertain which of them survived the other, the property of each person shall be disposed of as if he or she had survived the other (see s. 55(1) of the SLRA). In short, each person’s Will is administered as if the spouse predeceased. This outcome can be particularly problematic in various circumstances, a few of which I touch upon below.
Spouses with mirror wills. Without a common disaster clause that would address circumstances where both spouses die simultaneously, there may be certain bequests that are triggered twice. For instance, mirror wills may provide that (i) the residue of the testator’s estate is to be transferred to the spouse if he/she survives the other by 30 days, and (ii) if the spouse predeceases or fails to survive the other by 30 days, a specific bequest is gifted to Child #1, with the residue going to Child #2. Since neither husband nor wife survived the other for30 days, Child #1 would get two specific bequests, one from each of the parents’ estates, reducing the entitlement of the residuary beneficiary, Child #2.
No alternate executor. Spouses often name the other as their executor. If no alternate is named and they die simultaneously, the executor appointment would go on an intestacy (see s. 29 of the Estates Act), and the testator has lost the power to control who administers the estate.
Joint assets. Where joint tenants die at the same time, unless a contrary intention appears, the joint tenants are deemed to have held the property in question as tenants in common (see s. 55(2) of the SLRA).
Insurance proceeds. If the insured and the beneficiary die at the same time, the proceeds of a policy are to be paid as if the beneficiary predeceased the insured (see SLRA s. 55(4), and Insurance Act ss. 215 and 319). If there is no alternate beneficiary, and unless the insurance contract provides otherwise, the proceeds would be payable to the estate and subject to probate fees.
These examples serve to illustrate the value in having simultaneous deaths form part of your checklist when advising estate-planning clients. For more on this topic, I encourage you to read this article and to watch/listen to my recent podcast with Rebecca Rauws.
Thanks for reading and have a great day,
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