If you are considering a wrongful death claim, you may be wondering how the children of the deceased will fare when it comes to receiving settlement money. Each state has very specific laws regarding how and what minors may receive in personal injury settlements; if you’re at the beginning stages of a wrongful death claim and children are survived by the deceased, your wrongful death attorney will explain to you how a monetary award may go (or not go) to children. Each wrongful death claim is unique, so you really cannot expect someone else’s outcome to be similar to your own.
Even though the vast majority of wrongful death claims and lawsuits are settled outside of a courtroom, a court may intervene in how funds are distributed to minor children. If minor children are included in the list of recipients of a monetary award, the court carefully evaluates the situation to ensure that their portion of the settlement is saved and distributed to them when they reach the appropriate age. You cannot just cut a check for hundreds of thousands of dollars to a ten-year-old child if his father, mother, or both parents die a wrongful death.
Wrongful Death Defined
The legal definition of wrongful death is as follows:
“The death of a human being as the result of a wrongful act of another person. Such wrongful acts include: negligence (like careless driving); an intentional attack such as assault and/or battery; a death in the course of another crime; vehicular manslaughter, manslaughter or murder. Wrongful death is the basis for a lawsuit (wrongful death action) against the party or parties who caused the death filed on behalf of the members of the family who have lost the company and support of the deceased.”
In most states, three parties have the capacity to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of a family member or loved one:
- A personal representative of the deceased’s estate, such as the estate’s attorney or administrator
- The spouse or registered legal domestic partner of the deceased
- The children of the deceased (if of adult age)
If the children are minors and there are no other parties who can represent the deceased in a wrongful death claim, the court will likely appoint the estate’s representative to file the suit on behalf of the estate, which includes the children.
The court also appoints a “guardian ad litem” to represent the best interests of the children; the role of the guardian ad litem is to ensure wrongful death settlement amounts are fair for the children and to protect the minors’ financial interests.
When a wrongful death case involving minors is settled, the children will not typically receive the money right away. Instead, the money is put into a trust that is overseen by the guardian ad litem. The child’s legal guardian may have access to some of those funds to raise the child, but this is done under very strict scrutiny to protect the child’s financial standing and future. Once the child reaches the legal age of 18 in most states, he may access the remaining funds and spend the money as he sees fit.
Wrongful Death Methods of Payment
Repayment from a wrongful death lawsuit is commonly disbursed as a structured settlement, which is often distributed as repayment for personal and financial loss from the wrongful death. A structured settlement is a “secure financial tool that distributes a steady income stream to alleviate financial debt and provide financial stability to plaintiffs and their families.”
A plaintiff may also receive a lump sum, which means the family receives a full payout for emotional and financial losses. The lump sum allows families to pay larger medical bills, pay legal fees up front, and eliminate debt.
If a loved one has died and children are involved in the wrongful death claim, please make sure you understand how any financial settlement will be handled.