When someone dies due to the reckless, negligent or even intentional actions of another person, a wrongful death suit can be filed. As part of this suit, the administrator or executor of the decedent (the person who died) can distribute the estate to the beneficiary or the person(s) legally entitled to the proceeds. However, determining who the next of kin is in a wrongful death suit where the decedent had no will can prove to be a complex matter. A wrongful death attorney can help you to understand who is entitled to wrongful death benefits.
Hierarchical Order Of Wrongful Death Beneficiaries
In situations where a wrongful death suit is filed for a decedent who never obtained a will, the executor of the estate must follow a hierarchy of beneficiaries in order to determine who receives the proceeds of the case. This process is called the law of “descent and distribution.”
Married Victim With No Children
The highest priority in a wrongful death suit will always go to the spouse of the decedent if the person who was killed had no children. The surviving spouse will be the sole beneficiary in this case.
Married Victim With Children
If the victim of the wrongful death was married but also had children, things can become more complex. Both the spouse and any children are entitled to the proceeds of the suit, but with some caveats. The spouse must not receive less than one third of the value of the suit; this means that a spouse with four children will not parse out the proceeds among themselves at one fifth each.
Whether or not the children are biologically related to the decedent does not matter in cases of wrongful death. Similarly, even if the children were abandoned or estranged, or if they were born out of wedlock, they are still entitled to compensation.
Single Victim With No Children
If the deceased was not married and had no children, their next of kin would be their parents. These are the closest living relations, and they would be the sole beneficiaries of the suit.
Single Victim With No Children & No Surviving Parents
If a decedent has no surviving parents, no children, and was never married, the rules for allocating the proceeds of a wrongful death case once again become more complicated. The highest priority beneficiary in this case would be any siblings that the decedent had, and the proceeds would be shared equally among all siblings.
In cases where one of the siblings has passed away, the children of that sibling receive the sibling’s share of the proceeds. If no surviving siblings remain, all nieces and nephews of the decedent share the proceeds of the suit equally.
Single Victim With No Children, No Surviving Parents & Only Child
If the decedent of a wrongful death case was not married and had no children, his or her parents had also passed away and he or she had no siblings, the next of kin are the grandparents. They are the sole beneficiaries of the case, and they share the proceeds equally.
Single Victim With No Children, No Surviving Parents, No Surviving Grandparents & Only Child
In rare cases where an unmarried decedent has no children or surviving parents, siblings or grandparents, the title of next of kin passes to aunts and uncles, who share the proceeds equally. If any aunts or uncles are deceased, their share passes to their children (the cousins of the decedent).
In even rarer cases where the deceased victim also has no aunts or uncles, a complex investigation must be conducted that aims to locate the nearest next of kin. This analysis examines all known relations and how closely they were related to the person who was killed. This is the domain of the coroner and any required resources that can be used in tracking down living relations.
Reach Out To A Professional Wrongful Death Attorney
If you are currently struggling to cope with the legal ramifications of a wrongful death, you may feel overwhelmed or unsure of what to do next. It is important to work with a skilled wrongful death attorney to ensure that the benefits of the suit are distributed properly. The Brown Firm will assist you in navigating this process and removing the burden from you during this difficult time. We will help you to understand who is entitled to wrongful death benefits.
The Brown Firm will help you by creating a plan of action, and assembling necessary documentation for a wrongful death suit. We will also help you to establish the beneficiary of the wrongful death claim and ensure proper distribution of the settlement. Reach out today by phone at 703-828-0900 or . We look forward to hearing from you.