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Will a wrongful death claim affect a decedent’s estate?

If a person dies because of another party’s negligence or intentional acts, the family members of the victim may have grounds for a wrongful death claim. Wrongful death cases can be complex and the laws often vary by state, so it can be especially helpful to hire an experienced wrongful death attorney. An attorney can file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the family members, and represent them throughout the case.

Who Can File a Claim?

Who is eligible to file a wrongful death claim may vary by state. In many states, it is required that a personal representative or the executor of the decedent’s estate file the claim. In this case, they can file on behalf of the family members and/or heirs of the Will. Other states allow the decedent’s surviving spouse and children, or close relatives, such as parents, siblings and grandparents, to file a claim. Additionally, any persons who were dependent on the decedent may be able to file a claim. Generally, the main requirement for a person to be included in a wrongful death claim is having suffered financial and/or emotional damages as a result of the decedent’s death. In most wrongful death cases, those seeking damages will join to make a single claim which will be brought by a representative.

Common Damages

A wrongful death claim gives the victim’s family an opportunity to recover damages suffered from the death. Though some damages may vary by state, some of the more common damages a family may be able to recover in a wrongful death case include:

  • Funeral and Burial costs

  • Loss of current and future earnings

  • Loss of support, services and/or prospective inheritance

  • Emotional distress suffered by the surviving family members

  • Loss of consortium

  • Medical bills if the victim was in the hospital

  • Survival action damages can be sought on behalf of the decedent if the decedent did not immediately die from the injuries. These may include medical bills, pain and suffering and loss of wages while still alive

  • Punitive damages can be sought in cases where the death was maliciously or intentionally caused.

Distribution of a Wrongful Death Reward

If a wrongful death settlement is awarded, the way in which it is distributed largely varies by state. In some states, the award will be distributed to the decedent’s estate. In this case, whether or not the decedent had a Will in place generally will not matter, because the settlement must be distributed according to that state’s laws of intestacy. The following are some common ways an award may be distributed:

·         The damages become a part of the estate

·         The estate recovers funeral and burial costs, then the rest is distributed to the heirs

·         The award is distributed in proportion to the losses suffered by each person

·         The court decides how the award will be distributed

If survival action was brought in the wrongful death case, then those damages will be disbursed in accordance with the decedent’s Will or trust. If there is not Will, they will be distributed consistent with the state’s laws of intestacy.

Hiring a Lawyer

The distribution of a wrongful death settlement can add a lot of confusion and stress to an already difficult situation. An estate planning attorney, like a Sacramento estate lawyer, can help you and your family with the difficulties associated with this process. They can help offer guidance and protect the interests and rights of all parties involved.


Thanks to our friends and contributors from Yee Law Group for their insight into wrongful death and estates.

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