How Are Funds From A Wrongful Death Lawsuit Distributed?

Posted on: 29 November 2018

One question that frequently comes up in wrongful death lawsuits is how the proceeds from the court judgment are distributed to the beneficiaries. Unfortunately, there is no straight answer because it depends quite a bit on the laws in the state where the case was filed and settled. Here are three ways money from a wrongful death lawsuit may be shared amongst all the beneficiaries so you can plan accordingly.

Money Given to the Estate

Some states require wrongful death lawsuits be filed by the decedents' representative rather than their family members. Thus, the person serving as the estate's administrator would be the one to file the wrongful death case on behalf of the decedent's family. As a result, any money won in the lawsuit would be added to the deceased person's estate and distributed according to the individual's will and/or state inheritance laws.

For instance, in Massachusetts, the decedent's spouse receives the entire settlement if the deceased person had no children. If the decedent did have children, then one-third to one-half the settlement goes to the spouse and the rest is distributed to the kids.

It's important to note, in some states, the decedent's estate can only sue for burial, medical, and other expenses the person incurred as a result of the incident that resulted in his or her wrongful death. Any money collected is then used to pay those bills, and leftover funds are given to family members. Sometimes family members can sue the responsible party for damages not retrieved by the estate, such as loss of income and companionship,

Money Distributed According to Loss

A second way that money from a wrongful death lawsuit may be distributed is based on the magnitude of the beneficiary's loss. The bigger the loss the person sustained, the larger percentage of the money the individual gets. For instance, the decedent's spouse and children typically get the largest share since they suffer the biggest emotional and financial loss.

However, in this type of distribution, there is no set order to how the money is doled out. A person's share aligns with the level of his or her losses. So, a sibling who was wholly dependent on the deceased person could conceivably get more money than the victim's adult child who lives independently, for example.

Distribution of funds can be handled either by the family or the court. In some jurisdictions, the family must detail who gets the money and the amount and submit the plan to the court for approval. In other jurisdictions, family members must submit claims to the court and the judge decides who can the money and the amount to give claimants. In either case, it may be necessary to pull together proof you are entitled to some money from the wrongful death claim. So, it's a good idea to consult with an attorney for advice and assistance in acquiring the paperwork needed.

Money Distributed Based on Intestacy

Even if the deceased person has a will, state law may require funds from a wrongful death suit to be distributed according to the laws of intestacy. Essentially, the court will treat the money as if the victim had died without a will. In this situation, the money is typically given the family based on their relationship to the decedent and whether there is anyone ahead of them in line. The weaker the familial link to the victim and the more people in priority status, the less money he or she may receive.

For instance, parents and siblings of the decedent may receive money from the settlement only if the decedent's spouse and/or children aren't around. It's best to look up the intestacy laws in your state to determine where you sit in the line so you know whether you'll be eligible to receive compensation or your losses or not.

For more information about this or other issues regarding wrongful death lawsuits, contact a wrongful death attorney.


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