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What is a "Survivorship Period"?

 Posted on November 12, 2021 in Estate Planning Blog

lombard estate planning lawyerPairs of people who are each other’s next of kin, such as a married couple, often leave everything to each other in their estate plans. The idea is that when the first passes away, the second will inherit and enjoy the estate until she too passes away. Sadly, sometimes a couple passes away at the same time, for example, in a car accident. However, it is unlikely that both people died at exactly the same moment. Odds are, one person survived longer than the other - maybe by a few seconds, maybe by a few weeks. 

The problem for estate administrators is sorting out who inherits the estate of the person who died first when the person who dies second does not live long enough to claim the first person’s estate. Survivorship period laws simply require that the beneficiary of an estate outlive the decedent by a certain amount of time before benefiting from the estate. 

What Problem Does Survivorship Laws Address?

Mandatory survivorship periods are one of the ways Illinois lawmakers seek to solve this problem. To illustrate the problem, imagine that a married couple, Ashley and Beth, have made wills and left their entire estates to each other. If Ashley and Beth are in a car accident together and both fatally injured, with Beth outliving Ashley by a matter of hours, it makes little sense from a policy standpoint to pass Ashley’s estate property to Beth when Beth is not around to enjoy it. But, without survivorship period laws, Beth still becomes the legal owner of Ashley’s estate property. 

This means that when Beth dies, only Beth’s natural heirs are entitled to any part of the couple’s estate. Ashley’s natural heirs get nothing. This seems patently unfair - if Ashley and Beth died together, why are Ashley’s heirs excluded and Beth’s enriched? Hence, survivorship period laws were introduced. This way, both Ashley’s survivors and Beth’s survivors benefit.

Also, keep in mind that it is not always obvious or easy to determine who survived longer depending on the nature of the fatal accident. Prior to the introduction of survivorship period laws, gory medical evidence was sometimes required to determine which decedent’s surviving family members take the combined estate. Entire estate distributions were determined based on alleged mere seconds of life in some cases.  

Speak With a DuPage County Estate Planning Attorney

A. Traub & Associates is committed to protecting the rights of beneficiaries of wills, trusts, and other estate planning instruments. Our experienced Lombard beneficiaries’ lawyers will fight for you to receive what you are lawfully entitled to under the terms of your loved one’s estate plan. Call 630-426-0196 to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our knowledgeable attorneys. 


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