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Who gets our estate if our entire family suddenly dies?

Dear Nancy,

We are planning to have a family reunion trip. There are 10 of us altogether. This is my parents, my wife and children, my brother and his wife and children. We have booked to be on the same flight there and back. We were jokingly saying that we should probably not travel together like the royal family and split up to travel on a couple of flights.

The more we joked about it, the more it got me thinking that if there was (touch wood) a common disaster and our entire family perishes, what would happen to our various estates? We have named each other on our wills and insurance policies.

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Dear Martin,

First off, I think that the fear of flying is greater than the risk of flying. With that said, I'll get to the meat of your question.

I'll describe what happens if a couple die together in a common disaster. In the case of insurance policies, the oldest person is deemed to have died first. In the case of whose will governs their assets, if it is not possible to determine who died first, the wills are deemed as severed. This means that in both cases, their spouses have predeceased them and the assets are dealt with according to the will.

For the hypothetical major disaster you are referring to, where all the immediate next of kin pass away, the table of consanguinity comes into play. This table lays out succession in a family tree and who is the closest relative.

Hopefully, none of this needs to be addressed, but if you are really concerned, you can split up the family's travelling plans and/or draw up codicils to denote how you would like your estate dispersed if there were to be a major common disaster.

So, if you would rather your estate went to a close friend instead of a distant relative that you have never met or kept in touch with, put it in writing and attach it to your will.

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Nancy Woods, CIM, FCSI, is an associate portfolio manager and investment adviser with RBC Dominion Securities Inc. To ask her a question, send an e-mail to or visit her web site at


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About the Author

Nancy Woods, CIM, FCSI, is an associate portfolio manager and investment adviser with RBC Dominion Securities Inc. More

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