How Do You Split a Wrongful Death Settlement?

June 22, 2021

How money is split in a wrongful death settlement depends upon what survivors the deceased person left behind.

Each state has its own laws as to how money will be split in a wrongful death settlement. In Pennsylvania, according to statute PA §§ Title 42, Chap 83, Section 8301, surviving spouses, children, and parents can get money in a wrongful death pay-out. Siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents and other relatives cannot be a part of the settlement, even if they were dependent on the deceased. If there are no surviving spouse, children, or parents, then a wrongful death claim cannot be brought.

Settlement monies are split and distributed in accordance with Pennsylvania’s intestate succession laws that govern how property is distributed when someone dies without a will. These laws determine who gets the money in wrongful death cases, whether the deceased person left a will or not. The settlement is distributed to the beneficiaries in the proportion that they would receive under the state’s intestacy laws.

Pennsylvania laws regarding wrongful death are complicated, and making mistakes can be costly, but there is help available from the wrongful death attorneys at Wapner Newman. We offer a free consultation, so if you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or fault, call us today with any questions at (215) 569-0900.

Who Gets the Money in a Wrongful Death Settlement?

Wrongful death lawsuits are paid out based on the survivors the deceased person left.

Here is how wrongful death settlements are distributed in line with Pennsylvania’s intestate succession laws:

  • If the person was married but did not have children or parents, everything goes to the spouse.
  • If there were children but no spouse, the entire settlement will be divided equally among the children.
  • If there are surviving parents, but no spouse or children, the parents will share the money equally.
  • If the person’s spouse and children survived them, the spouse will get the first $30,000. They will also get half of the settlement that remains. The other half will be divided equally between the children. In cases where there is a spouse and parents but no children, the same pay-out exists. The spouse gets the first $30,000 and half of the remaining settlement. The parents divide the other half.

So, if the wrongful death settlement was $100,000, and the deceased left a spouse and two children, the spouse would get $30,000 plus half of the remaining $70,000 ($35,000), for a total of $65,000. The children would split the other half of the remaining $70,000, ($35,000) and so each receive $17,500.

Settlements in wrongful death lawsuits are paid directly to survivors, not to the estate. They are not subject to inheritance, estate or income taxes.

Who gets the money in a wrongful death settlement in Pennsylvania can be very complicated. An experienced attorney can more accurately explain who might get the money in a settlement based upon the details of your unique situation.

How Does a Wrongful Death Settlement Work?

When someone causes a death due to negligence or a careless or intentional act, they are liable for damages in a wrongful death claim.

The following are some negligent actions that may be reasons for a wrongful death claim:

  • A drunken driver ran through a red light and caused a crash.
  • A surgeon left instruments in a body cavity that caused a fatal infection.
  • A defective product exploded and caused fatal injuries.
  • A property owner failed to have proper lighting and security, and someone was murdered on the property.

What Damages Can be Recovered?

Wrongful death lawsuits ask for compensation for specific damages, or losses, resulting from deaths. They are brought by the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate on behalf of the beneficiaries. In a successful case, a settlement may bring a damage award that covers:
1. Economic loss to the decedent’s family. This may cover costs such as:

  • Hospital and medical expenses before death
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Estate administration expenses
  • Loss of the decedent’s expected income
  • Loss of inheritance the deceased might have left had they lived.

2. Restitution for losses that do not have a specific dollar value such as:

  • Loss of services, society, and comfort that the decedent would have provided or contributed had they lived
  • Emotional and psychological loss that a family suffers as a result of the death.

3. Punitive damages in cases of severe negligence or wrongdoing.

If there are no beneficiaries, the personal representative named in the deceased’s will can bring a lawsuit to recover compensation only for medical, funeral and estate administration expenses. If there was no will, the court will appoint a representative who can bring a lawsuit. If the personal representative doesn’t file a claim within six months of the death, the spouse, parents or children can file on behalf of all the survivors.

Who is Entitled to Wrongful Death Benefits?

The family members of the deceased are entitled to wrongful death benefits in accordance with Pennsylvania intestate succession.

Money won in a wrongful death lawsuit goes to benefit the specific family members who have suffered from the loss of their loved one. It doesn’t go to into the estate, and it is not available to creditors of the deceased to pay off any debts they may have had. Also, wrongful death lawsuit settlements are not taxed by the state or federal government.

Amounts of settlements

While juries tend to be sympathetic in cases of wrongful death, there are a wide range of settlement amounts, depending on the circumstances involved. In some cases (such as in a truck accident, where the driver, the trucking company, and a cargo company may all be liable),there may be multiple defendants, including the need for a skilled truck accident lawyer, with large amounts of insurance and assets available. Cases may be settled through negotiations with the insurance companies, but, in some cases, the case may have to go to trial. At a trial, the settlement amount may depend on the individual judge, jury, and jurisdiction; the evidence available and strength of the case; and the skill of your attorney to build and present your case.

Time period for a settlement

The time it takes to settle a case also depends upon the circumstances involved and the willingness of the parties to negotiate and settle. When a fair settlement offer can be reached, the case may end within a few months. When a settlement cannot be reached and the wrongful death claim goes to a jury trial, it can take a year or longer for the case to conclude. The wrongful death attorneys at Wapner Newman can examine all the factors of your case and give you a better idea of what it may be worth and how long the case may take.

Time Limit for Filing

It’s important to note that there is a time limit for bringing wrongful death claims, so you should not delay in seeking legal help. According to PA §§ Title 42, Chap 55, Section 5524, you generally have two years from the date of the person’s death to file a claim. If you miss that deadline, the courts are unlikely to hear your case.

Get Help from Our Attorneys

At this difficult time, when you are grieving the unfortunate death of a loved one and your life may be turned upside-down, it may be difficult to think of filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Let the compassionate lawyers at Wapner Newman take the burdens off you by handling all legal hurdles involved with getting justice for the wrongdoing and obtaining the settlement your family deserves to help them move forward with their lives.

Our injury attorneys understand Pennsylvania’s unique wrongful death laws and are here to answer all of your questions and concerns. We will work tirelessly to investigate the case, gather evidence about what happened, prove negligence and fault, deal with negotiations with insurance companies, and take your case to trial if necessary. We understand what you are going through and will strive to get you the compensation you deserve for the loss of your loved one.

We offer a free consultation, and there are no fees to you unless and until we win your case. Call our Pennsylvania law office today at (215) 569-0900 to get started.