Suffering the loss of a loved one is never easy, but a wrongful death settlement can provide a sense of closure when the death was caused by the negligent conduct of another party. However, you may find yourself wondering how the funds from this legal action will be divided.
Components of a Wrongful Death Settlement
Compensation in a wrongful death case includes the following types of damages:
- Pre-death pain and suffering
- Medical expenses incurred before death
- Funeral and burial costs
- Compensation for lost care and companionship
- Punitive damages, if the death involved particularly negligent or malicious conduct on the part of the defendant
Distribution of Funds
Wrongful death cases are typically accepted on a contingency fee basis, which means the attorney who handles the case is entitled to a percentage of the settlement as the fee for legal services. There may also be additional expenses related to the preparation of the case that aren't included in the contingency fee, depending on the terms of the attorney's contract.
Louisiana law places no specific limitation on how wrongful death settlements are distributed between family members. However, it is most common for the funds to be considered part of the deceased person's estate.
If the deceased died with a will in place, the settlement is distributed according to the terms of the will. If the deceased died without a will in place, the settlement is distributed using intestate laws. These rules can be quite complicated, but the general guidelines are as follows:
- If the deceased had children but no spouse, parents, or siblings, the children inherit everything.
- If the deceased had a spouse but no children, parents, or siblings, the spouse inherits everything.
- If the deceased had living parents but no spouse, children, or siblings, the parents inherit everything.
- If the deceased had siblings but no spouse, children, or parents, the siblings inherit everything.
- If the deceased had a spouse and children, the spouse has the right to use the deceased's share of the community property for life. The children inherit the deceased's share of community property subject to the surviving spouse's right to use it for life, plus all of the deceased's separate property.
- If the deceased has a spouse and living parents, the spouse inherits all of the community property and the parents inherit the separate property.
- If the deceased has a spouse and siblings but no parents, the spouse inherits all of the community property and the siblings inherit the separate property.
- If the deceased had siblings and parents but no spouse, the parents have the right to use intestate property for life, then the siblings inherit everything.
When the children entitled to an inheritance are minors, a guardian ad litem is typically appointed to make sure their interests are protected. This is considered a necessary step due to the inability of a minor child to be financially self-supporting without a parent's income.
In the majority of cases, the heirs of the deceased are able to come to an agreement using general state guidelines or the provisions of the deceased person's will. However, there are a number of special circumstances that can trigger disputes:
- Separated but not divorced couples
- Stepchildren raised by the deceased
- Foster children in the process of being adopted
- Children born outside of marriage
- Half siblings
- Parents who did not maintain constant contact with their children
- Individuals who are not immediate family but were financially dependent on the deceased person
When there is disagreement among those involved, parties may each retain an attorney to advocate for their interests in the distribution of the settlement. This can add considerable time and expense to the process, but it may be considered necessary if there is a sizable settlement to be distributed.
Has Your Loved One Died Due To The Negligence Of Others?
If your loved one died due to someone else's negligence you need to speak with a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Alexandria office directly at 318.541.8188 to schedule your free consultation.