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“Simultaneous Death” Laws In Conflict For Insurance Payout

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Sometimes when the legislature adopts a new statute, no one notices that it conflicts with an existing law. While those conflicts usually get discovered and resolved, they can sometimes create real confusion in real cases.

Consider the tragic case of the Craig family. William and Diane Craig and Micah, William’s son from a former marriage, were all killed in a head-on automobile collision near Prescott, Arizona, in 1999. An off-duty police officer witnessed the crash and tried to assist, but without success.

When the police officer first approached the Craigs’ vehicle he heard moans coming from Diane Craig. He quickly determined that both William and Micah Craig were dead; ten minutes later it was clear that Diane Craig had died.

William had two life insurance policies, totaling almost $700,000 in benefits. Both policies named his wife Diane as beneficiary and neither named an alternate. In the event that his first beneficiary did not survive him both policies provided that the proceeds would go to his daughter from the former marriage, Chanda Craig.

Arizona, like many states, has adopted a provision of the Uniform Probate Code to avoid problems just like the one facing the insurance companies in the Craig case. The Arizona law requires a life insurance beneficiary (and indeed any heir) to live at least five days longer than the decedent in order to collect benefits. Mrs. Craig lived no more than a few minutes longer than her husband.

Mrs. Craig’s heirs, however, pointed out an anomaly in Arizona law. Although the Uniform Probate Code provision was adopted in 1974, and later amended to cover a wide variety of non-probate situations (including insurance contracts), no one in the legislature ever noticed or bothered to repeal the prior law dating back to 1954. That earlier version would have required Chanda Craig to show that there was no sufficient evidence that her step-mother died before her father.

The insurance companies filed suit in federal court, asking the judge to direct them as to who should receive the insurance benefits. The federal judge requested the Arizona Supreme Court to determine which law applied to the Craig family tragedy.

The Arizona Supreme Court decided that the legislature had simply overlooked the earlier statute when the Uniform Probate Code was adopted, and again each time it was amended thereafter. The Justices declined to attach any importance to the fact that the newer version appears in the Probate Code, while the unchanged original law is found in the Insurance Code; the titles of the respective sections did not demonstrate any particular intent on the legislature’s part. The result: Chanda Craig received the proceeds from her father’s life insurance. Unum Life Insurance Co. v. Craig, July 17, 2001.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

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Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.