In a wrongful death case, most people assume that the surviving spouse or next of kin always receives the payout. While this is often the case, it is not a hard-and-fast rule, and the person who receives the settlement may be someone other than the spouse.
Understanding who gets the proceeds in a wrongful death suit is a matter of sorting out the facts in the case and bringing the right action against the individuals responsible.
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit is a type of personal injury claim that is brought about after someone dies because of another person’s or entity’s intentional actions or negligence. For instance, if a nurse showed up drunk to work and accidentally injected a patient with the wrong medication, killing him, both the hospital and nurse could face a wrongful death lawsuit.
If a distracted driver hits a cyclist and kills them, that driver could face a wrongful death lawsuit. Since the deceased’s spouse or the deceased’s estate usually files the claim, they are typically the parties who receive the award.
The parties in a wrongful death lawsuit are often compensated in one of two ways:
Damages – This involves compensation for the loss of the person. While the money won’t bring the person back, it will compensate for their financial support to dependents, savings and investments, and potential future earnings that were lost. Unpaid medical bills, lost wages, funeral costs, and other accident-related expenses could also be awarded.
Pain and suffering– This form of compensation will repay the family for the suffering that the person endured between the accident and their death.
Who Gets the Money?
If the injured person dies before they can start a claim for accident-related damages, the person’s estate can sue the responsible party. According to the terms of his will, when the claim is paid out, the funds will be paid to the deceased surviving spouse, heirs, or next of kin.
If the person died intestate—or without a will, there are certain guidelines as to how the money is divided. Of course, this varies by state, so check with an attorney to ensure these terms apply.
- A spouse but no children: The spouse receives 100 percent of the proceeds
- A spouse and children: The spouse receives 50 percent of the proceeds and the other 50 percent is divided evenly between the children
- Children but no spouse: The proceeds are divided between the children
- Parents but no spouse, children, grandchildren, or siblings: The parents of the deceased receive 100 percent of the proceeds
- Parents and siblings, but no spouse, children, or grandchildren: The proceeds are divided equally between the parents and siblings. If one parent is deceased, the surviving parent receives the deceased parent’s portion
- Siblings but no parents, spouse, children, or grandchildren: The proceeds go to the sibling.
The above is not an etched-in-stone guideline, however. It is a rough outline of how most states determine the beneficiary in most wrongful death cases. Ultimately, the court will decide who gets the money, so it’s best to have a wrongful death attorney on your side to make sure you get the money you deserve.
Wrongful death lawsuits can be hard on survivors. Not only do you have to deal with the loss of a loved one, but the aftermath of sorting out lawsuits, paying expenses, and fighting family members over proceeds can also be emotionally taxing.
Who gets the proceeds in a wrongful death lawsuit largely depends on each state’s laws and each case’s circumstances. That is why it is always recommended to let a wrongful death attorney sort these things out. He or she might also be able to seek compensation for extra damages, like the pain and suffering the death of your loved one have spurred or the loss of companionship, if you and the late loved one were in a very close relationship.