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How do you plan for simultaneous family member deaths?

If you and your spouse are pondering how you're going to develop your estate plan ahead of retaining an attorney, you may picture your assets being handed down in a fairly linear fashion. When one of you dies, the other one gets everything. When they die, your children will inherit everything. If you don't have children, maybe you decide that your assets will go to your favorite nonprofit organization or the college where you met decade ago.

However, what if the two of you are killed in a plane crash, car accident or you both perish from a carbon monoxide leak in your home? These tragedies happen all the time.

That's why estate planning professionals recommend that couples and others whose estates are intertwined have a "simultaneous death clause." This clause typically states that if the two people die in the same event and it's not possible to determine who died first, one of them will be considered, for purposes of the estate, to have predeceased the other. This makes the estate administration process easier for those left behind.

Some people even include what's sometimes called a "Titanic clause." This would come in to play if an entire family perished in the same event. Although it's horrific to think about, we've all read news accounts of boats capsizing, acts of mass violence, horrendous car crashes and other tragic events that killed entire families.

What if, God forbid, this happened, and you had no provision in your will designating who would receive your assets if you and all of your designated beneficiaries died together? Your estranged, n'er-do-well nephew could inherit everything instead of a worthy charitable organization of your choosing.

Estate planning is all about making sure that nothing is left up to chance. As the head of the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils says, "The aim is to never leave it up to chance or to state intestacy laws." Your estate planning attorney can help you incorporate these and other necessary provisions in to your estate plan.

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