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How Is a Wrongful Death Settlement Distributed Amongst My Family and Heirs After a California Wrongful Death Claim Is Brought?

California statutes on wrongful death require that each heir, spouse and parent join their claims as one against the defendant or defendants that caused the wrongful death. Questions sometimes arise on how a large settlement or verdict is divided amongst the heirs.

Financial needs test:

First, a wrongful death settlement may include an assessment of damages based on the financial needs of one or more of the heirs. A spouse may be suffering the lost income. A small child that was financially dependent upon a parent for health, education, welfare and support, may have a greater need than older emancipated brothers and sisters.

Equally entitled family members.

Where the family is a tight unit and all loved and shared the same common bond of love, care and loss of comfort of the loved one, it is very typical for family members to agree to divide the proceeds of any settlement in a wrongful death claim.

Sometimes, unfortunately, there are instances when a relative wants more than is fair. As an example in one case handled by our office, the “new wife” of 2 years married a widower 20 years her senior, who was a father of four through his prior 30 year marriage. When he died in a car accident, she wanted all proceeds of wrongful death, to the exclusion of the remaining family. In that case, it was necessary to prove that even though she had some claim, excluding the other children not related to her, but related to him was unfair. We were successful is advocating a proper resolution and division.

The “Woodwork relatives.”

There are instances where claimants come “out of the woodwork” wanting a portion of the wrongful death settlement proceeds even though they had no relationship, or a very vague relationship, with the decedent. In a number of cases handled by our office, we have literally had relatives “appear” from nowhere when they get word that a relative has died and there is a case seeking financial reward, even though these people may not have had contact with the decedent for many years. This can sometimes be very distressing to spouses, parents and heirs that were close to the decedent. Their claim will be limited as compared to other claimants.

In such cases, a distinction needs to be drawn between those heirs that were close to the decedent and those that were only a blood relative. If they are not entitled to assert a claim or are demanding an unreasonable sum, an effort to limit their recovery is necessary by proof of no or little relationship to the deceased. Naturally, if they have no prior relationship, their greed may be quickly uncovered for what it is, and their claim limited.

If your family has suffered a wrongful death, and you are unsure what your rights and that of the other heirs are, please feel free to contact our Orange County wrongful death lawyers immediately. We have handled more than 40 wrongful death cases in the history of the firm, and we can explain to you the rights of each of the heirs in such a claim.

Call us at (888) 752-7474 or contact a wrongful death attorney .

by James E. Ballidis

James Ballidis is the managing attorney for Allen, Flatt, Ballidis & Leslie and has been practicing personal injury law for 25 years.

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