Berman & Asbel, LLP

Estate planning and simultaneous deaths

When making estate plans, Pennsylvania residents might want to consider naming additional beneficiaries in the event that their first choice dies at the same time or shortly after they do. Sometimes it's impossible to determine who died first. A simultaneous death clause appoints one person in a couple or others whose estates are entwined to be named as the one who died first if this is the case. Couples might also want to consider changing property owned to "tenants in common" instead of "joint tenancy with rights of survivorship" to clarify how property is passed on if both individuals die at the same time.

It may also be possible to arrange for assets to pass to a contingent beneficiary if the primary beneficiary dies shortly after inheriting assets. On accounts that pass via beneficiary designation, such as retirement accounts, people may want to have a trust instead of a contingent beneficiary for tax reasons.

People might also want to think about what they want to happen to their assets if a beneficiary has children and that beneficiary dies before the individual making the estate plan. Someone who has a disabled relative may want to create a special needs trust.

The complexity of estate planning means that it can be helpful to have an attorney assist with creating an estate plan. A lawyer might be able to suggest estate planning strategies based on a person's needs of which he or she may be unaware. There can be much more involved with estate planning than simply creating a will. It might also involve creating trusts and naming people to manage a person's finances and health care if he or she is unable to do so. People should also keep in mind that beneficiary designations override what they put in their will.

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