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Estate of Villwock

    Brief Fact Summary. Mary Hitz sought application of the Simultaneous Death Act because of inconsistencies in determining time of death of her father and his wife. Based on the trial court’s determination Hitz’s father predeceased his wife and his entire estate passed to her.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Because it is beyond medical ability to fix an exact moment of death inconsistencies in the time of death by medical professionals are not incredible as a matter of law and will not require the application of the Simultaneous Death Act.

    Facts. Hitz was Roy Villwock’s daughter from a previous marriage. Roy married June Villwock and the two were critically injured in a head-on automobile accident. Both were transported together to the hospital and the medical technicians on board agreed that Roy suffered cardiopulmonary failure minutes before his wife, June. Both were taken into the hospital where CPR was started and June was pronounced dead at 8:23 p.m. and Roy at 8:34 p.m. A probate hearing was held to determine the time of Roy’s death and it was found that Roy died on the way to the hospital and June was still alive and conscious upon arrival. Roy’s will left everything to June and contained no requirements that she survive him. June’s will left everything to specific members of her family. Hitz appeals the decision of the trial court that Roy predeceased his wife.

    Issue. Whether the trial court’s determination that Hitz’ father Roy predeceased his wife was made in accordance with accepted medical standards?

    Held. Yes. Affirmed. Based on the testimony of the expert witness and the lack of challenge by any other witness the trial court’s finding was made in accord with accepted medical standards and made without error.

    Discussion. Dr. Kotila, the expert witness, provided conflicting opinions as to the time of Roy’s death. However the Court was convinced by his offered explanations as to the inconsistencies. The original death preannouncement was not intended to preclude reevaluation and CPR was continued for an hour or more to preclude any possible errors in judgment of death. The state law is silent as to acceptable diagnostic tests and procedures to determine death; therefore the medical profession is free to formulate acceptable medical standards.


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