Who Gets the Money in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Grief can be unbearable when dealing with the loss of a loved one. Wrongful death incidents only magnify the pain and toll the loss takes on a family. 

Unfortunately, financial difficulties can further devastate families without the financial support from the lost loved one’s income. Once the initial shock subsides, family members can look to legal avenues to get compensation for their loss. 

Filing a wrongful death claim can result in compensation for the loss, but what members are eligible to receive money? Let’s first explore wrongful death.

What is wrongful death?

a judge makes a ruling in a wrongful death case

Wrongful death is taking the life of another individual due to a willful or negligent act.

Willful means the death was due to an intention to cause harm or death.

Negligent means someone caused the death by a failure to act, carelessness, or inattention.

A wrongful death case is not a criminal case; it only determines financial damages owed by a defendant according to a court of law. Once someone proves wrongful death, the court delivers a verdict that grants compensation. The next step for the court to determine gets the money. 

Who Get’s the Money in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit if You Win?

In Alabama, an individual cannot file a wrongful death suit. Instead, the personal representative of the deceased’s estate must file the wrongful death lawsuit. 

The representative is the person the will identifies as the executor of the estate. If there is no will, the law automatically grants the spouse the title of estate representative. Without a spouse, a recognized heir is chosen as estate representative. If there is no spouse or heir, a probate judge appoints someone else as the estate representative.

In the case of the wrongful death of a minor, each parent has equal rights if they are married to each other or living together. Otherwise, the parent with legal custody gets priority.

The court then distributes the money from a wrongful death case based on Alabama’s intestate succession laws. These laws determine how to distribute property when someone dies without a will. Though, in Alabama, these laws are also used even if the deceased left a will.

How is money distributed in Alabama?

a widow looks at late husbands photo after wrongful death

If the deceased…

  • was married but had no children or living parents, the spouse receives the entire wrongful death award.
  • was married with children from that marriage, the initial $50,000 plus half of the remaining balance goes to the spouse. The children receive the rest.
  • had children but was not married, the children get the entire award.
  • was married with children from outside the marriage, half of the money goes to the spouse. The children receive the rest.
  • was married with no children but had surviving parents, $100,000 plus half of what’s left goes to the spouse. The parents receive the remaining amount.
  • was not married and had no children, the parents get the entire award.
  • did not have a spouse, children, or parents, the surviving siblings receive the money.
  • had an absent spouse, children, parents, or siblings; the next closest family member (e.g., grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) could receive compensation.

It is challenging to seek justice for your loss while coming to grips with never seeing your loved one again. Wrongful death cases are complex and get even trickier when multiple family members seek a portion of the compensation awarded. This blog should provide useful insight to solve one pain point by illustrating who gets the money in a wrongful death lawsuit.

If you have lost a loved one due to wrongful death and need the guidance of an experienced wrongful death lawyer, please contact Timberlake & League. We can help.