If a Married Couple Dies Together with No Kids Who Gets the Estate?

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

If a Married Couple Dies Together with No Kids Who Gets the Estate?

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

If a married couple dies simultaneously, and they have no children, the beneficiaries of the will generally receive the assets of the estate. Each state has laws determining inheritance. If the couple has no will, the state's laws of intestacy determine inheritance. If the couple has a valid will, the terms of the document dictate inheritance. States have also passed laws that contemplate the death of a couple in a common accident.

Elderly couple sitting on a deck with their arms around each other

The Uniform Simultaneous Death Act

The Uniform Simultaneous Death Act has been adopted to resolve the issue of what happens when a couple passes at or at about the same time. The Act avoids disputes surrounding the issue of who passed first. In general, without the Act, probate law would require the property from the first to die be probated into the estate of the second to die. As a result, the property of the first to die would go through two probates—the first probate passing property to the brief survivor and the second probate passing the same property along with the second spouse's property to the heirs of the second spouse.

Instead, the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act adopts the 120-hour rule. If one individual spouse does not survive the other for a period of 120 hours, the law provides that each individual predeceased the other. As a result, if spouses pass away together, such as in a car accident, no property would pass between the spouses at death. Instead, each spouse's individual heirs or beneficiaries would inherit their property.

No Will vs. Having a Will

When a person passes away without a will, the law describes the person as intestate. Each state has laws determining what happens when an individual dies intestate, according to which, typically, assets pass to their spouse or children. When a couple passes away together and has no children, state law typically provides that the next closest relative inherit their assets. This considers parents first, then any brothers and sisters.

Married couples with children generally recognize the need to do estate planning to meet the needs of their children in the event something happens to them while married couples without children tend to feel less urgency around estate planning. However, leaving state law to determine inheritance when a married couple dies intestate often results in disputes between family members and frequently requires resolution by a court.

Estate planning, such as having a will, allows married couples to help families avoid disputes and allows the couple to determine who inherits their property. Effective estate planning accounts for the possibility of the couple dying at the same time in a common accident and can give specific instructions for those situations. It allows parties to avoid state laws that may arise, such as the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act and its 120-hour rule.

Couples Passing Away Together

State law resolves the issue of couples dying together. Under the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act, state law provides that each spouse has predeceased the other and no probate between the couple will occur. When the couple has no children and no valid estate planning, the laws of intestacy in the state determine who inherits. This is the closest living relative, often parents, and in some cases where the parents are already dead, brothers and sisters of the couple.

Even married couples with no children are wise to do estate planning to determine who inherits their property upon their passing. Understand the rules and regulations in your state to better protect other family members.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.