Dividing A Wrongful Death Settlement Among Family Members
Who decides how a wrongful death settlement or jury verdict is divided is a common question. Families of the deceased frequently wonder whether each survivor will be awarded the same amount of money in a wrongful death claim. In many states, the law divides the awards according to certain standards. To check the laws in your state, you can check below in our state-by-state comparison of wrongful death proceed division.
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Dividing the Wrongful Death Settlement by Agreement
In a states where it is allowed, the family members will decide on fair division on their own. When the family agrees, the claimants jointly select how they would like the award to be split and allocated before presenting their choice to their attorney. The family makes the choice rather than the legal system or the courts. When possible, we always advocate for this kind of decision-making.
To give you an indication of how your settlement may be shared based on the parties, your attorney can look at judgments in other wrongful death litigation. When a jury decides on damages, each surviving family member will be given a separate sum depending on their closeness to the deceased and the value of their loss and suffering.
How does a jury usually divide the money in a wrongful death lawsuit?
Many states do not provide a formula specifying the amount that each family member will receive. In those states, each person must independently verify their claim to an award and the jury will make an award. The most emotionally and financially dependent person will likely get the largest allocation. The factors that juries usually consider include:
- If the matter involves underage children
- If all recipients are grownups
- If the parties can agree on a reasonable settlement distribution
- If any parties could challenge the agreement
- The mental capacity of all adults involved
Numerous precedent-setting wrongful death cases have resulted in statistics that make educated guesses about how juries often reward various family members. Those cases show that:
- A decedent’s spouse will frequently receive more compensation from juries than any other party. It is simple to establish how much money would be lost over a lifetime when a spouse is financially reliant on the deceased.
- Juries frequently give little children who lost a parent a sizable sum of money. Even while a child won’t always get as much money as a surviving spouse, they still come quite close. To calculate the amount, factors including emotional suffering and financial dependence are taken into account.
- Parents who lose a minor child are compensated significantly. One of the most upsetting things that can happen to a parent is the death of a child.
- When a middle-aged or elderly person loses an adult child, compensation is typically modest. Due to the decedent’s advanced age in these situations, awards are less.
- When an adult child loses a parent, they typically receive little compensation in comparison. Age plays a role in this case since jurors are more inclined to examine an adult’s maturity and capacity to manage the issue than they would an infant. Additionally, there is often little reliance on money, and although such an incident might be devastating, juries frequently view adults differently.
Even if the differences in wrongful death compensation between children and adults may appear to be significant, more senior family members might still earn a significant amount of money.
If a jury does not decide on the split, how does a wrongful death settlement get divided?
Because not every case proceeds to trial, your lawyer will assist in allocating the funds by applying previous legal precedent in the absence of a jury to decide how to share wrongful death damages. Your attorney will take into account several factors to decide how much each person will get, including:
- If there are any children involved
- Whether or whether all recipients are adults
- Whether everyone can come to a fair sharing agreement
- Whether the parties are unable to divide the proceeds by an agreement
- Whether the parties are open to having their lawyers collaborate with the lawyers for the other claimants
When discussing possibilities with attorneys before submitting a claim, these aspects must be carefully considered.
After taking into account such and other considerations, the settlement is allocated as fairly as feasible. Family members who had a larger claim to emotional anguish or were more financially reliant on the deceased are often more likely to get compensation.
For instance, a husband who is separated at the time of his wife’s passing still has a claim, but he would not get the same amount of money as the woman’s three children who were close to her. If the deceased’s parents and young children file a case, it is more likely that the children will receive a higher portion than the parents since they are likely to suffer greater financial losses. However, if the surviving spouse was financially reliant on the deceased, they are likely to get a larger portion of any wrongful death payout than the young children. When compared to elder parents who lose an adult, parents who lose a small child are more likely to receive a larger settlement (mainly because of pain and suffering).
What happens when a family can’t agree on how to split wrongful death proceeds?
If all wrongful death claimants are adults but disagree, there are two main approaches.
The first approach is for each claimant to retain separate legal counsel and submit independent lawsuits against the defendant. You can seek your wrongful death compensation in this case, but you won’t be aware of any additional claims being made against the defendant.
Additionally, if you decide to settle outside of court, you won’t be able to find out about the other claims that are still being pursued, whether they have settled or not, or how much they have settled for.
When the claimants do not get along, the arrangement may be required, but it typically sags the overall case and gives the defendants a lot of leeway to control the settlement terms. This approach is often not recommended.
Some people view this as a good alternative as they do not have to worry about apportionment or another party consenting to the settlement conditions.
However, because you are virtually unaware of what the other side is getting, it is frequently seen as a disadvantage. Because the defendant is collectively paying the parties less than the defendant is liable for, you could not be recovering the maximum amount available and the defendant might not be paying as much as they should overall.
The second choice is for the individual claimants to retain their counsel but direct them to collaborate.
In this approach, each plaintiff still has legal counsel to fight for their just part of the entire settlement while also presenting a unified front to the defendant to negotiate the whole claim.
Making an “aggregate demand” combines many claims into one even if each claimant has an attorney. In this case, a single lawsuit is filed on behalf of each beneficiary by various legal counsel.
Each side is fairly represented, and the attorneys who are representing the parties negotiate the distribution of benefits that have been granted.
Although it may not always be the case, one benefit of bringing an aggregate claim is that we may frequently settle the case for more money than if you filed separate claims.
The disadvantage of this arrangement is that the person with the worst legal representation will probably get the smallest amount of money.
Another drawback is that this increases costs. Each law firm will hire its experts, pay for duplicate investigators, and bear other costs. This means less money for the claimants at the end of the wrongful death lawsuit.
If the parties can’t agree, the parties can use mediation. This allows each family member and claimant to voice their concerns. A mediator is often skilled enough to help the family build a consensus.
Wrongful Death Attorney Near Me
While no amount of money can restore the life of a loved one who suffered a wrongful death, a civil lawsuit at least can provide economic recovery and financial compensation for survivors, as well as a sense of justice.
Our wrongful death lawyers provide free, no-obligation consultations to assist you to understand your choices, and we don’t charge until your case is satisfactorily resolved. Our firm is devoted to assisting families through this terrible time and getting the compensation that our clients need to cover medical costs, funeral fees, and any associated losses. Our wrongful death lawyer is board certified and has achieved superb results for his clients that total more than $100 million. Please call us at 1-800-883-9858 or contact us online if you suspect a family member’s death was caused by someone else’s misconduct.
State-by-state comparison of wrongful death proceeds
Each state has its own rules when it comes to dividing up settlements in wrongful death lawsuits. This chart shows how state law splits wrongful death judgments and settlements.
|Alabama||Settlements are distributed to the decedent’s heirs in accordance with Alabama’s laws for intestate succession||Alabama Wrongful Death Act, Ala. Code §6-5-410 Alabama Probate Code, Ala. Code §43-8-40 et. seq.|
|Alaska||If the remaining family members are unable to resolve how to divide a settlement, the court will make a legally enforceable determination about distribution.||Alaska Statute, AS 09.55.580|
|Arizona||The surviving family members must get compensation “in proportion to their damages.”||Arizona Wrongful Death Act, AZ REV ST §§12-611, 12-612, 12-613|
|Arkansas||Only the dead person’s estate is entitled to compensation for funeral and burial expenses, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages incurred while the decedent was alive; the decedent’s family is only entitled to compensation for companionship, emotional support, and financial assistance.||Arkansas Code §12-62-102|
|California||Family members have the discretion to share the settlement, but if they are unable to do so in an equitable manner, the court will determine a distribution based on the parties’ respective financial requirements.||Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. §§377.60, 377.61|
|Colorado||In accordance with Colorado’s descent and distribution laws, surviving children are still entitled to a part if a spouse makes the claim alone. Likewise, if the claim is made by the decedent’s children, the surviving spouse is still entitled to a statutory portion.||Colorado Wrongful Death Act|
|Connecticut||If there is no will, the settlement will be awarded in accordance with Connecticut intestacy rules. Recovery will be distributed in accordance with the terms of the decedent’s will.||Con. Gen. Stat. §52-555|
|Delaware||The law permits the distribution of an award to beneficiaries in a manner appropriate to the harm that resulted.||Delaware Code Title 10 §3724|
|District of Columbia||If there is no will, damages are allocated in accordance with the intestacy legislation. Damages are given to the estate, which distributes compensation proportionally depending on the loss incurred.||District of Columbia Code §§16-2701, 16-2703|
|Florida||Distribution of a settlement must be fair and equitable, and the court has the power to authorize distribution.||Florida Wrongful Death Act|
|Georgia||No matter how many children there are, the surviving spouse cannot get less than one-third of the recovery.||Georgia Code Title 51. Torts § 51-4-2|
|Hawaii||The allocation of any settlement must be decided by the court.||Hawaii Revised Statutes Division 4. Courts and Judicial Proceedings § 663-3|
|Idaho||There are no statutory restrictions on how settlement money may be distributed.||Idaho Statutes Title 5 § 5-311|
|Illinois||According on their degree of dependent on the dead, the surviving spouse and/or next of kin are given compensation.||Illinois Wrongful Death Act|
|Indiana||If the deceased individual had more than one qualifying dependent, the court will decide how to split the settlement money. Damages may be granted to the spouse, children, or other dependents of the deceased.||Indiana Code §34-23-1-1|
|Iowa||Any wrongful death settlement is divided up as if it were personal property belonging to the estate, and if it includes compensation for lost assistance and services, the court will allocate the damages as it sees fit.||Iowa Code Title XV. § 633.336|
|Kansas||The parties can agree on a distribution of a settlement, but it must be accepted by the court. The estate is first reimbursed for filing the action, and then damages are awarded to the decedent’s heirs by the court.||Kansas Statutes Chapter 60 § 60-1901|
|Kentucky||Funeral expenses and administration costs are paid first, thereafter:|
the spouse receives the remainder if the decedent has no children.
If the decedent had children and a spouse, the children get half and the spouse gets half.
The money goes to the children if the decedent leaves children but no surviving spouse.
If the decedent leaves no children or spouse, the parents of the decedent receive the payment.
The settlement goes to the estate if he or she has no surviving spouse, parents, or children.
|Kentucky Revised Statutes Title XXXVI §411.130|
|Louisiana||The distribution of wrongful death settlements among family members is not subject to any restrictions under the law.||Louisiana Civil Code Tit. V, Art. 2315.2|
|Maine||If there are no minor children, the surviving spouse receives the entire amount; if there are, the spouse receives half of the award, and the minor children receive the other half divided evenly between them.||Maine Revised Statutes Title 18-A § 2-804|
|Maryland||The beneficiaries may get damages in shares according to the harm brought on by the wrongful death.||Maryland Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings § 3-904|
|Massachusetts||If the decedent is survived by a spouse but no children, the entire settlement is given to the spouse; if there is only one child left, the spouse gets half of it and the child gets half; and if there is more than one child left, the spouse gets a third of it and the remaining children split it evenly.||Massachusetts General Laws Part III Ch. 229, § 2|
|Michigan||The beneficiaries of the settlement must have experienced losses before the court may divide the settlement’s revenues; any money recovered for pain and suffering is returned to the decedent’s estate. The personal representative must request to distribute the settlement’s proceeds.||Michigan Compiled Laws, Chapter 600 § 600.2922|
|Minnesota||The court must order the division of the recovery after it determines the proportionate loss of each person.||Minnesota Statutes §573.02|
|Mississippi||If a living spouse submits a claim, damages are split equally between the spouse and children; if neither the spouse nor the children are still alive, the damages are split between the parents and siblings who are still alive.||Mississippi Code Title 11 §11-7-13|
|Missouri||Any settlement must first be approved by the court, which is also in charge of allocating the payment according to the severity of the loss.||Missouri Revised Statutes Title XXXVI §537.080|
|Montana||The distribution of wrongful death compensation is unrestricted by law.||Montana Title 27 §27-1-513|
|Nebraska||The settlement will be split between the surviving spouse and “next of kin” in proportion to the financial loss they have endured.||Nebraska Revised Statutes Chapter 30§ 30-809|
|Nevada||Each heir has the right to provide proof of their unique losses and be given a proportionate share of the damages.||Nevada Revised Statutes Title 3 §41.085|
|New Hampshire||The amount of damages awarded to a surviving husband or children is decided by the court.||New Hampshire Rev. Statutes Title LVI §556:12|
|New Jersey||A surviving spouse, one or more living descendants, and other dependents may each get an equal share of the settlement with the approval of the court.||New Jersey Wrongful Death Act|
|New Mexico||Following a settlement, the money is divided as follows:|
The spouse takes everything when there are no children.
When there are children and grandchildren, the spouse takes half and the grandchildren and children take the other half
When there is no spouse, the children get half and grandchildren get the other half.
When the decedent is a child, the mother and father share equally.
Siblings will share the settlement when there are not any living spouse, children, or parents.
|New Mexico Statutes §41-2-1|
|New York||Settlemnt or judgment proceeds must be distributed in this manner:|
if there is a surviving spouse and no children, the entire amount goes to the spouse.
If there are children, the spouse receives $50,000 and half of the remaining amount, with the other half going to the children equally.
The children divide the settlement equally if there is no spouse.
The surviving parents get the money if the decedent died without children or a spouse.
|New York Consolidated Laws, Estates, Powers and Trusts Law EPT § 5-4.1|
|North Carolina||The distribution of the proceeds are the following: |
The full sum goes to the surviving spouse if there are no living children or parents.
The first $50,000 goes to the surviving spouse, and the remaining earnings are split evenly between the living parents and the spouse if there is also a surviving spouse.
The first $30,000 goes to the spouse and the remaining income is split evenly between the spouse and the child if there is only one live child.
If there is more than one surviving child, the spouse receives the first $30,000, followed by a third of the settlement going to the spouse and the remaining two thirds going to the children.
The settlement is split amongst surviving children, parents, siblings, and other descendants if there is no living spouse.
|North Carolina General Statutes §28A-18-2|
|North Dakota||The court is in charge of allocating damages among the decedent’s family members and may conduct whatever inquiry it deems appropriate in order to do so.||North Dakota Century Code §32-21-01|
|Ohio||Beneficiaries get payments in proportion to their losses and injuries under the settlement.||Ohio Revised Code Title XXI §2125.01|
|Oklahoma||The court is in charge of allocating a settlement among remaining family members.||Oklahoma Statutes §12-1053|
|Oregon||The personal representative is paid for charges, fees, and expenditures before paying for all medical care reimbursements. The remaining damages are then allocated to beneficiaries in accordance with the laws of intestate succession or as agreed upon by the beneficiaries.||Oregon Revised Statutes §30.020|
|Pennsylvania||The decedent’s estate receives any payment for pain and suffering, and the remaining is given to the beneficiaries of the decedent in the proportion that they would have received under intestacy rules.||Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act|
|Rhode Island||The following is how the settlement is divided:|
1/2 to the surviving husband and 1/2 to the surviving kids
If there are no children, the entire estate passes to the surviving spouse. If neither the spouse nor any children exist, the entire estate passes to the next of kin in accordance with the intestacy rules.
|Rhode Island General Laws §10-7-1|
|South Carolina||Parties can agree to a division. But the court must approve the division of the settlement after a hearing.||South Carolina Code of Laws §15-51-10|
|South Dakota||All competent beneficiaries over 18 must consent to the settlement’s division, or the court must approve it.||South Dakota Codified Laws §21-5-5|
|Tennessee||The proceeds are divided according to the laws of intestacy||Tennessee Code §20-5-106|
|Texas||If all beneficiaries are of legal age and are in agreement, they can decide how the compensation will be divided.||Texas Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §71.00|
|Utah||Settlements are given to heirs in accordance to the financial assistance the deceased provided and the specific loss each heir experienced.||Utah Code §78B-3-106|
|Vermont||A settlement’s proceeds are split amongst the surviving spouse, children, or next of kin as follows:|
When someone dies leaving only a spouse that person will get all the money.
The parents get the money when there are no children or spouse.
|Vermont Statutes Title 14 §1491|
|Virginia||Any settlement must be approved by the court, and if the parties are unable to agree on how to divide the proceeds, the court may decide on an equitable distribution.||Virginia Code §8.01-50|
|Washington||The appropriateness of any settlement and the distribution to the decedent’s heirs must be examined by the court.||Washington Revised Code §4.20.010|
|West Virginia||The court has discretion to decide how to fairly divide a settlement among the decedent’s heirs.||West Virginia Code §55-7-5|
|Wisconsin||If there are no minor children, the entire settlement goes to the surviving spouse; if there is no spouse, the settlement goes to the decedent’s lineal heirs or surviving siblings; the court may set aside a portion of the settlement for the benefit of minor children, but this cannot exceed half of the settlement.||Wisconsin Statutes §895.04|
|Wyoming||Each party that stands to gain from a wrongful death lawsuit is allowed to demonstrate their level of damages to the court, and the court will allocate a settlement in accordance with those findings.||Wyoming Statutes §1-38-101|