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Who gets the money in a wrongful death settlement depends upon what survivors the deceased person left behind. Wrongful death settlements are distributed in accordance with Alabama’s intestate succession laws. These laws were put in place to govern how property is distributed when someone dies without a will. They are also used in the state to determine who gets the money in wrongful death cases, whether the deceased person left a will or not.

How the Money in a Wrongful Death Settlement is Distributed

Here is how wrongful death settlements are distributed in line with Alabama’s intestate succession laws. If the deceased person …

  • Was married but didn’t have children or parents, the spouse gets the entire wrongful death award.
  • Had children but was not married, the children get everything.
  • Was married with children from that marriage, the first $50,000 of an award plus half of the remaining balance goes to the spouse. The children get the rest.
  • Was married with children from outside the marriage, half of the balance goes to the spouse. The children get the rest.
  • Was married, no children, and had surviving parents, the first $100,000 plus half of what is left goes to the spouse. The parents get the rest.
  • Was not married and didn’t have children, the parents get the entire wrongful death award.
  • Didn’t have parents, a spouse or children, any surviving siblings would get the money.

If the person who died didn’t have any of these close relatives, the award would go to the next closest family members. These might be grandparents, grandchildren, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.You can see that who gets the money in a wrongful death settlement in Alabama 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 wrongful death case.

How Does a Wrongful Death Settlement Work?

How does a wrongful death settlement work? In Alabama, the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate is the only one who can file a wrongful death claim to get a settlement. A family member cannot bring a wrongful death lawsuit, unless they are also the personal representative. Also, the personal representative for the estate won’t receive any part of the settlement unless they are also one of the relatives entitled to inherit under intestate succession.

How damages are awarded in a wrongful death claim in Alabama is different than in other states. In most states, wrongful death damages are intended to compensate survivors for the emotional and financial losses they’ve suffered due to their loved one’s death. The Alabama legal system does not award damages to compensate survivors. Instead, it awards punitive damages in wrongful death settlements. Punitive damages are intended to punish the at-fault person or entity whose wrongful actions caused the death. The idea behind awarding punitive damages is that it will deter the at-fault party, and potentially other parties, from taking careless or negligent actions in the future.  

How Are Wrongful Death Lawsuits Paid Out?

Money awarded in wrongful death lawsuits is paid directly to the appropriate family members in accordance with intestate succession. Money won in a wrongful death lawsuit doesn’t go into the estate. And creditors can’t take it to pay debts the deceased may have had. Additionally, wrongful death lawsuit settlements are not taxed by the state or federal government.

The payment would come after a negotiated settlement with the responsible party’s insurance company. Or if the case goes to trial and the lawsuit is successful, payment would come following the trial.

How Much Are Wrongful Death Cases Worth and How Long Do They Take?

There are no simple answers to these questions. A wrongful death attorney will try to get their client the best possible settlement with the insurance company. If a case goes to trial, the court will consider how bad the actions of the at-fault party were in order to arrive at a damage award.

As far as how long a case might take, it all depends upon the circumstances of the individual case and the willingness of the parties involved 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.

In wrongful death cases it is important to consult with an attorney who can examine the specifics of your unique case. An attorney can advise you about what your case may potentially be worth and will work hard toward resolving it in the best interests of surviving family members.

Is There a Time Limit for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim in Alabama?

The time limit, or statute of limitations, for filing a wrongful death claim in Alabama is two years from the date of death. Personal representatives should keep this time limit carefully in mind if a wrongful death claim is being considered. There can be some rare exceptions to this timeframe that an attorney can advise you about if you are nearing that deadline. One of them is if the claim is against a city or county, then the statute may be even shorter than two years.

Get Help from Our Compassionate Wrongful Death Attorneys When You Have Lost a Loved One

The grief of losing a loved one to a negligent or intentional act can turn your life upside down. You probably feel angry, stressed and confused. You are probably unsure about where to turn to see that some kind of justice is served against the wrongdoer.

Our compassionate attorneys at Caldwell Wenzel & Asthana understand Alabama’s unique wrongful death laws.  We are standing by to help you and will sensitively and compassionately answer all of your questions about your potential wrongful death case. Whether you are a family member or a personal representative of the deceased, we can help you understand how wrongful death lawsuits work and who gets the money in a wrongful death settlement in your case. Call us today at (251) 444-7000 for a free consultation.