Q. My grandparents died in a car accident and we do not know who died first. I’ve heard the term commoriente being used by the solicitors, what does this mean?
A. When there are simultaneous deaths it can be difficult to establish who died first, which can therefore have an impact on the distribution of estates in accordance with the deceased will. The law has made a provision for such circumstances.
The commorientes rule applies for the purpose of determining title to property. It states that if two or more people die in circumstances where it is not possible to tell who died first, the deaths are presumed to have occurred in order of seniority, so the younger is deemed to survive to elder. This means if your grandfather is older than your grandmother, your grandmother in the eyes of the law is deemed to have survived your grandfather, even though it’s momentary.
This enables a judgement to be made as to how each of their estates should be passed.