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Can a Wrongful Death Claim Affect a Decedent’s Estate?

Posted on October 14th, 2017 by Oddo & Babat, P.C.

If a person dies at the fault of another party, the victim’s surviving family members may have the right to file a wrongful death claim. A wrongful death lawsuit is intended to hold the responsible party liable for any accident and death related damages that impacted the victim’s family. A lawsuit seeks compensation for such damages to reduce the burden of those affected.

The legislation of a wrongful death lawsuit varies by state, and can be a complicated matter. Generally, a wrongful death attorney will file a claim on behalf of the surviving family members. If a settlement results from the lawsuit, the way with which it is dealt can depend on several factors, but will typically become part of the decedent’s estate.

How is a Wrongful Death Claim Distributed?

The way in which a wrongful death award is distributed varies greatly by state. Generally, distribution of the award is not dependent on a decedent’s will. Many states distribute at least parts of the award to a spouse or other surviving family members impacted by the death. In some states, all or parts of the award will be distributed to the estate, in which case it may go to the heir or heirs. In the unlikely event that something like this could happen, it is wise to plan with an estate planning lawyer the future of your loved ones and potential belongings.


There are certain damages that the estate of the decedent has the capability of recovering, and this will vary by state. Some of these damages may include:

  • Medical Bills
  • Funeral Expenses
  • Emotional damages
  • Loss of future earnings, services and inheritance
  • Loss of consortium

Who Can File a Claim?

Many states have laws and restrictions on who is able to actually a wrongful death claim. Most states allow close surviving family members to file a claim so long as they sustained damages from the death. Any surviving individuals that were some way dependent on the decedent may also be able to file a claim. Multiple people may wish to file a wrongful death claim, so a lawyer will usually combine them into a single claim of which will be filed on the survivor’s behalf.

What is a Survival Action?

A survival action allows for an estate or surviving members of a decedent to sue for the damages and injuries that the decedent experienced before he or she died. This tort can be used in cases where the decedent does not pass away immediately. The action is in place to enable the recovery of damages that may have been compensated for had the decedent survived. These damages may include medical bills, punitive damages and wages lost while incapacitate before the time of death. If the decedent has a will, then the compensation of the damages will be distributed in accordance of the will. Otherwise, the distribution will be dealt with as if no will or estate plan is in place.

Filing a wrongful death claim and determining proper distributions of the award can be a stressful process with numerous complications. To ease some of the burden, an experienced estate planning and trust lawyer Sacramento CA trusts in your state can offer legal counsel and guidance, as well as act as a representative in a claim case.

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

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