Wrongful Death Settlement Distribution Laws by State

The death of a family member can be devastating, and even more so if the death occurred wrongfully as the result of the negligence of a another person. The laws of each state allow surviving family members to file a lawsuit and recover monetary damages due to the wrongful death of a loved one. Read on to learn more about wrongful death distribution laws.

Understanding Wrongful Death Lawsuits

A wrongful death lawsuit can be brought by a victim's family following a death due to the wrongful or negligent act of another. The victim's family can seek monetary damages for funeral and burial expenses, medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of wages and future earning capacity, pain and suffering, and the family's loss of companionship. Many of these sorts of cases end in a settlement, rather than a trial. With a settlement, all parties agree to resolve the case for a certain monetary pay-out, and everyone agrees to forego their rights to have a trial.

Each state has its own wrongful death statutes. Some states limit who can file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the decedent—a legal term for the person who died. Many states require that the personal representative of the decedent's estate file the lawsuit. A personal representative, sometimes known as an executor, is a party appointed to manage the estate. Sometimes a will specifies a particular personal representative, otherwise the court can appoint one.

Other states allow certain relatives of the decedent to file a wrongful death claim, and to benefit from the monetary settlement of these types of cases. Typically, these are the decedent's surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings, and other "heirs," which are defined as people entitled to inherit from the decedent pursuant to probate laws.

Some state also limit how a wrongful death settlement or jury award can be distributed amongst beneficiaries. Some state indicate that a surviving spouse or children are entitled to receive a certain amount or percentage. Other states require that a settlement be distributed consistent with that state's laws of intestacy, which means dying without a will.

State Laws: Wrongful Death Settlement Distribution

The table below details the laws regarding wrongful death settlement distribution for each of the states.

 

Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Distribution of Settlement

State Statutes

Alabama

Must be filed by the personal representative of the decedent's estate

Settlements are distributed to the decedent's heirs in accordance with Alabama's laws for intestate succession

Alabama Wrongful Death Act, Ala. Code §6-5-410

Alabama Probate Code, Ala. Code §43-8-40 et. seq.

Alaska

Must be filed by the decedent's personal representative

The surviving family members decide how to distribute a settlement, if they are unable to do so the court will enter a binding decision as to distribution

Alaska Statute, AS 09.55.580

Arizona

The decedent's surviving spouse, child, parent, or personal representative of deceased person

Compensation must be distributed to surviving family members "in proportion to their damages"

Arizona Wrongful Death Act, AZ REV ST §§12-611, 12-612, 12-613

Arkansas

The decedent's estate, as well as surviving spouse, children, parents, or siblings

Only the decedent's estate can recover for funeral and burial costs, medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages during the decedent's lifetime; the decedent's family can recover only for the loss of companionship, emotional, and financial support

Arkansas Code §12-62-102

California

The decedent's surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, stepchildren, and grandchildren

Discretion is given to family members to distribute the settlement, but if unable to do so equitably the court will make a distribution based on the economic needs of the parties

Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. §§377.60, 377.61

Colorado

Subject to certain exceptions, in the first year after death only the surviving spouse can file; in the second year after the decedent's death, surviving children can also file

If a spouse alone files a claim, surviving children are nonetheless entitled to a share consistent with Colorado descent and distribution statutes; likewise if children of the decedent file the claim, a surviving spouse is entitled to a statutory share

Colorado Wrongful Death Act

Connecticut

Must be filed by the executor or administrator of the decedent's estate

Recovery will distributed according to the terms of the decedent's will; if there is no will then settlement will be distributed pursuant to Connecticut intestacy laws

Con. Gen. Stat. §52-555

Delaware

The spouse, parent, child, or siblings of the decedent, or a person related to the decedent by blood or marriage

Statute authorizes the distribution of an award to beneficiaries in a way that is proportionate to resulting injury

Delaware Code Title 10 §3724

District of Columbia

The decedent's personal representative must file on behalf of surviving spouse, or if none, on behalf of children, parents, or siblings of the decedent

Damages are paid to the estate, who distributes payments proportionally based on the loss suffered; if there is no will damages are distributed based on an intestacy statute

District of Columbia Code §§16-2701, 16-2703

Florida

A personal representative has a duty to bring an action on the behalf of the decedent's surviving spouse, minor children, and parents

Allocation of a settlement must be distributed in a fair and equitable manner, and the court has the authority to approve distribution

Florida Wrongful Death Act

Georgia

A surviving spouse must bring a claim on behalf of the decedent and any surviving children; if no surviving spouse or children a claim can be brought by surviving parents or a personal representative

A surviving spouse cannot receive less than one-third of recovery, regardless of how many children there are

Georgia Code Title 51. Torts § 51-4-2

Hawaii

The decedent's personal representative, surviving spouse, "reciprocal beneficiary," surviving children, parent, or anyone who was financially dependent on the decedent

The court is responsible for allocating the distribution of any settlement

Hawaii Revised Statutes Division 4. Courts and Judicial Proceedings § 663-3

Idaho

The decedent's personal representative, heirs, spouse, children, stepchildren, parents, or any other dependent blood relatives

There are no legal limitations on the distribution of settlement

Idaho Statutes Title 5 § 5-311

Illinois

Must be filed by the decedent's personal representative

Damages are distributed to the surviving spouse and/or next of kin according to their level of dependency on the decedent

Illinois Wrongful Death Act

Indiana

Must be filed by the decedent's personal representative

Damages may be awarded to decedent's spouse, children, or other dependents; if more than one eligible person exists the court will determine how to divide a settlement amount

Indiana Code §34-23-1-1

Iowa

The administrator of the decedent's estate, the spouse and surviving minor children, adult children, or parents of the decedent

Any wrongful death recovery is distributed as if personal property belonging to the estate; if the settlement includes damages for loss of services and support, the damages will be apportioned by the court as it deems equitable

Iowa Code Title XV. § 633.336

Kansas

Must be brought by the decedent's estate for the benefit of the "heirs at law"

The estate is first compensated for bringing the lawsuit, thereafter damages are distributed to the decedent's heirs by the court; the parties can agree to a distribution of a settlement, but it must be approved by the court

Kansas Statutes Chapter 60 § 60-1901

Kentucky

Must be brought by the decedent's personal representative

Funeral expenses and administration costs are paid first, thereafter:
-if the decedent leaves a surviving spouse and no children, the spouse receives the remainder
-if the decedent leaves a surviving spouse and children, the spouse receives 1/2 and the surviving children receive 1/2
-if the decedent leaves children but no surviving spouse, the remainder goes to the child or children
-if the decedent leaves no children or spouse, the parents of the decedent take
-if the decedent leaves no spouse, parents, or children, the settlement passes to his estate

Kentucky Revised Statutes Title XXXVI §411.130

Louisiana

Surviving spouse or children, parents, or siblings of the decedent

The law places no limitation on how wrongful death settlements are distributed between family members

Louisiana Civil Code Tit. V, Art. 2315.2

Maine

Must be brought by the decedent's personal representative

A surviving spouse receives all of the award if there are no minor children; if there are minor children the spouse receives 1/2 of the award and the minor children receive the other 1/2 divided equally between them

Maine Revised Statutes Title 18-A § 2-804

Maryland

Primary beneficiaries, including a surviving spouse, parent or child can file a wrongful death suit on behalf of themselves; a secondary beneficiary like a sibling, cousin, niece, nephew, or other relative can file a claim on behalf of the decedent's estate

Damages can be distributed to the beneficiaries in shares proportional to the injury caused by the wrongful death

Maryland Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings § 3-904

Massachusetts

Must be filed by the executor or administrator of the estate

If the decedent is survived by a spouse and no children, the entire settlement is distributed to the spouse; if there is one surviving child, the spouse receives 1/2 of the settlement and the child receives 1/2; if there is more than one surviving child the spouse receives 1/3 and the surviving children divide 2/3 between them

Massachusetts General Laws Part III Ch. 229, § 2

Michigan

Must be brought by the decedent's personal representative

The personal representative must file a motion to distribute the proceeds of the settlement, and the court will distribute the settlement to the extent beneficiaries have suffered damages; recovery for pain and suffering is paid back into the decedent's estate

Michigan Compiled Laws, Chapter 600 § 600.2922

Minnesota

The surviving spouse and children of the decedent, or the parents, grandparents, or siblings of the decedent

The court is responsible for determining the proportionate loss of each person entitled to recovery and ordering distribution accordingly

Minnesota Statutes §573.02

Mississippi

A claim can be brought by the decedent's personal representative, surviving spouse, parent, child, or siblings

If a surviving spouse brings an action, damages are divided equally between the spouse and children; if there are no spouse or children, damages are divided between surviving parents and siblings

Mississippi Code Title 11 §11-7-13

Missouri

The surviving spouse, children, or lineal descendants of the decedent have the first opportunity to file; if no such people exist a brother or sister of the decedent or their descendants can bring a claim

The court must first approve any settlement, and is responsible for apportioning the settlement in proportion to loss suffered

Missouri Revised Statutes Title XXXVI §537.080

Montana

Must be filed by the decedent's personal representative

The law places no limitations on the distribution of wrongful death settlements

Montana Title 27 §27-1-513

Nebraska

Must be filed by the decedent's personal representative

Settlement is to be distributed between the surviving spouse and "next of kin" in the proportion of pecuniary loss suffered

Nebraska Revised Statutes Chapter 30§ 30-809

Nevada

Can be brought by the decedent's personal representative, surviving spouse, children, or parents

Each heir is entitled to present evidence of his or her own specific losses, and be awarded a proportionate portion of damages

Nevada Revised Statutes Title 3 §41.085

New Hampshire

Any person "interested in the estate of the deceased" can file a wrongful death claim

The court determines the amount of damages distributed to a surviving spouse or children

New Hampshire Rev. Statutes Title LVI §556:12

New Jersey

Must be filed by the decedent's personal representative

A surviving spouse and one or more surviving descendant can take equally; other dependents can be apportioned part of the settlement under the court's authority

New Jersey Wrongful Death Act

New Mexico

Must be filed by the decedent's personal representative

The proceeds of a settlement are distributed as follows:
-If there is a surviving spouse and no children, the spouse takes everything
-If there are surviving children or grandchildren, the spouse takes 1/2 and the children and grandchildren share the remaining 1/2
-If there is no surviving spouse, the children or grandchildren divide the settlement
-If the decedent is a child, the mother and father share equally
-If no surviving spouse, parents, or children, surviving brothers and sisters can share the settlement

New Mexico Statutes §41-2-1

New York

Must be filed by the decedent's personal representative

Proceeds are distributed as follows:
-If there is a surviving spouse and no children, the entire amount goes to the spouse
-If there are children, the spouse receives $50,000 and 1/2 of the balance, and the other 1/2 is divided equally among the children
-If there are children but no spouse, the children divide the settlement equally
-If no spouse or children, the entire settlement goes to surviving parents

New York Consolidated Laws, Estates, Powers and Trusts Law EPT § 5-4.1

North Carolina

Must be filed by the decedent's personal representative

Proceeds are distributed as follows:
-If there is a surviving spouse and no children or surviving parents, the entire amount goes to the spouse
-If there is a surviving spouse and also surviving parents, the first $50,000 goes to the spouse and the remaining proceeds are divided equally between the surviving parents and the spouse
-If there is one living child, the first $30,000 goes to the spouse and the remaining proceeds are equally divided between the spouse and the child
-If there is more than one surviving child, the first $30,000 goes to the spouse, 1/3 of the remaining settlement goes to the spouse, and the remaining 2/3 is divided between the children
-If there is no surviving spouse, the settlement is divided between surviving children, parents, siblings, and other descendants

North Carolina General Statutes §28A-18-2

North Dakota

A wrongful death action can be brought by a surviving spouse, children, parent, grandparent, or by the decedent's personal representative

The court is responsible for apportioning damages among the decedent's family members, and to do so the court may make any investigation it deems necessary

North Dakota Century Code §32-21-01

Ohio

Must be filed by the decedent's personal representative

Settlement is distributed to beneficiaries in proportion to their injury and loss

Ohio Revised Code Title XXI §2125.01

Oklahoma

Must be filed by the decedent's personal representative

The court is responsible for distributing a settlement among surviving relatives

Oklahoma Statutes §12-1053

Oregon

Must be filed by the decedent's personal representative

The personal representative is first reimbursed for costs, expenses and fees, thereafter the personal representative pays all reimbursements for medical care, the remainder of the damages are distributed to beneficiaries pursuant to the laws of intestate succession or as agreed by the beneficiaries

Oregon Revised Statutes §30.020

Pennsylvania

Must be filed by the decedent's personal representative

Any portion of the settlement for pain and suffering is paid to the decedent's estate, and the remainder is distributed to the decedent's beneficiaries in the proportion they would have taken under the intestacy laws

Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act

Rhode Island

Must be filed by the executor or administrator of the decedent's estate

The settlement is distributed as follows:
-1/2 to surviving spouse
-1/2 to surviving children
-If no children, the whole shall go to the surviving spouse
-If there is no spouse or children, the whole shall go to the next of kin in proportion as described by the laws of intestacy

Rhode Island General Laws §10-7-1

South Carolina

Must be filed by the executor or administrator of the decedent's estate

The parties to the action can agree on a distribution, but any settlement must be approved by the court following a hearing

South Carolina Code of Laws §15-51-10

South Dakota

Must be filed by the decedent's personal representative

Either the court must approve the settlement or all competent beneficiaries over 18 must agree to the division in the settlement

South Dakota Codified Laws §21-5-5

Tennessee

The initial right to file belongs to the surviving spouse; if there is no spouse, the right next belongs to the following parties, in order:
-Surviving children or next of kin
-Personal representative of the decedent's estate
-Surviving parents of the decedent
-Administrator of the decedent's estate

Distribution of the net proceeds of a settlement are completed pursuant to the laws of intestacy

Tennessee Code §20-5-106

Texas

The surviving spouse, children, and parents of the decedent can file wrongful death claims individually, or together in a group claim

If all beneficiaries are adults and are agreeable, they can determine a distribution of the settlement

Texas CIV PRAC & REM Code §71.00

Utah

Can be filed by the decedent's heirs or personal representative

Settlements are distributed to heirs proportionately based on the amount of financial support the decedent offered, and the individual loss suffered by the heir

Utah Code §78B-3-106

Vermont

Must be filed by the decedent's personal representative

Proceeds from a settlement are distributed to a surviving spouse, children, or next of kin in proportion as follows:
-If only a surviving spouse remains, the settlement will be for the spouse's sole benefit
-The decedent's surviving parents take the entire settlement if there is no spouse or children

Vermont Statutes Title 14 §1491

Virginia

Can be filed by one or more statutory beneficiary, including the decedent's surviving spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, other relatives who lived with the decedent, or anyone else entitled to inherit from the decedent's estate

The court must approve any settlement, and if the parties cannot agree on a distribution of the proceeds the court may determine an equitable distribution

Virginia Code §8.01-50

Washington

Can be filed by the decedent's personal representative, surviving spouse, or children

The court must review the reasonableness of any settlement and the distribution to the decedent's heirs

Washington Revised Code §4.20.010

West Virginia

Must be filed by the decedent's personal representative

The court has the discretion to equitably distribute a settlement amongst the decedent's heirs

West Virginia Code §55-7-5

Wisconsin

Can be brought by the decedent's personal representative or a surviving spouse, children, or parent

The court may set aside a portion of the settlement for the benefit of minor children, but this cannot exceed 1/2 of the settlement; if there are no children the entire settlement goes to the surviving spouse; if there is no spouse the settlement goes to the decedent's lineal heirs, or to surviving siblings

Wisconsin Statutes §895.04

Wyoming

Must be filed by the decedent's personal representative

Each person who may benefit under a wrongful death action may prove his or her measure of damages to the court, and the court will distribute a settlement accordingly

Wyoming Statutes §1-38-101

Get a Free Review of Your Wrongful Death Claim

If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence of another person, you may have a case for wrongful death. As summarized in the chart above, the state laws that apply to wrongful death lawsuits vary widely, and each state limits the amount of time that you have to file your suit. To be sure and preserve your legal rights, get a free initial review of your claim.

Next Steps

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