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Death by Disaster: 120 Hours Makes All the Difference

If you and a beneficiary die in the same disaster, 120 hours can determine who inherits your estate .

It is common for a testator and his/her beneficiaries to be travelling together and thus exposed to like dangers in the event of a disaster. For example, imagine that a wealthy elderly woman and her adult daughter are traveling together on a small plane. The elderly lady has two children (the daughter and an adult son) but no will . The daughter has no money and no job but does have a will that names her tattoo artist as the sole beneficiary of her estate.

In an unfortunate turn of events, the small plane crashes into a mountain and all the passengers are scattered on the mountainside. If the daughter dies first, then her estate has no value and the tattoo-artist therefore inherits nothing. If the rich elderly woman dies first AND the daughter lives for at least another 120 hours, then the daughter inherits from the mother and when the daughter dies then the daughter’s estate passes to the tattoo artist.

However, if the daughter doesn’t live for at least 120 hours, then she is treated as if she predeceased the elderly woman. In that event, her estate remains worthless and the tattoo artist inherits nothing.

In order to avoid any confusion in these situations, a careful estate plan might include a will that specifically incorporates language dealing with unfortunate events such as simultaneous death . For example, a will could contain language that expands the 120-hour survival requirement to 200 hours, 30 days, 60 days, etc.

In some unusual circumstances, it is unclear whether a beneficiary predeceased a testator. This was a more common event in years past when communications technology was not as advanced as it is today (e.g., unreported shipwrecks) but it is still possible. For example, a testator and beneficiary might be involved in an extreme disaster (such as a tsunami ) in a remote location and they might not be recovered for over 120 hours. In those circumstances, the law does not presume either adequate or inadequate survival time. Rather, anyone making a claim (say the tattoo artist) must demonstrate that the beneficiary survived at least 120 hours.