wrongful death claims and estate planning

Losing a loved one can change your life forever, especially if your loss is due to another person’s negligence or callous actions. While money can never bring back your family member, filing a wrongful death claim can help you with funeral costs and compensate you for the emotional trauma you may be experiencing. 

A successful wrongful death claim can help you handle the challenges that come at you immediately after the death of your parent, spouse, or child. However, the proceeds of a wrongful death claim may have an impact on the deceased’s estate plan. We can help you navigate the impact of wrongful death on the estate probate process in Texas. Don’t hesitate to contact us today.

What Is Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death claims and estate planning seem like they would be incompatible, but sadly, they often go hand in hand. For example, if your loved one was injured in a motorcycle crash, they could file a personal injury claim against the at-fault driver. If they won a million dollars in an insurance settlement, some of that money could be saved or invested and become part of their estate plan. It might be passed down to their children after they die—hopefully, many years in the future.

However, If your loved one was injured in a motorcycle accident and died from their injuries, you may be able to pursue a wrongful death claim for losses you have suffered due to your loved one’s death. In some cases, you could potentially “step into the deceased person’s shoes” and sue the other driver for the losses suffered by your loved one. That type of claim is called a survival action. With a survival action, there are more complexities regarding how the money could be divided and how probate would be affected. We will discuss some of those below.

Potential Causes of Wrongful Death

Wrongful death can be caused by virtually any action, from slips and falls to intentional harm. Common causes of wrongful death include:

  • Motor vehicle accidents,
  • Pedestrian accidents,
  • Defective products,
  • Medical malpractice, and
  • Workplace injuries.

To bring a wrongful death claim in the State of Texas, your loved one must have lost his or her life due to the at-fault party engaging in one of the following:

  • Negligence,
  • A wrongful act,
  • Carelessness,
  • Lacking a necessary skill, or
  • Failing to fulfill an obligation.

Even if the party at fault is also facing criminal charges, you can still file a wrongful death lawsuit. Wrongful death claims in Austin, TX, are not barred because of a pending criminal proceeding for the same matter. If you believe that your loved one was wrongfully killed, even if someone is being criminally prosecuted for that crime, contact our Austin, TX wrongful death attorney today. We can discuss your options with you and help you obtain the closure and compensation you deserve.

Components of a Valid Wrongful Death Claim

To bring a successful wrongful death claim, you will need to prove the following:

  • Your loved one’s injuries were fatal;
  • These fatal injuries were the direct result of the at-fault party’s actions or negligence; and
  • If your loved one had survived, they would have been eligible to file a personal injury claim against the other party.

In Texas, normally only the decedent’s surviving spouse, children, or parents can bring a wrongful death claim. However, there are some exceptions for representatives of the estate to file a lawsuit on behalf of the estate.

When Can an Estate Administrator Bring a Wrongful Death Suit?

As previously mentioned, Texas has a fairly restrictive wrongful death statute. Under the current law, only surviving spouses, children, and parents of the deceased may file claims for recovery. However, if the decedent’s family does not file a wrongful death claim within three months, a representative of the estate has the right to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the estate. 

The wrongful death law in Texas can be frustrating to some families because, today, the definition of family tends to be more expansive than it was in previous generations. Unfortunately, the law is extremely clear that wrongful death claim proceeds are “for the exclusive benefit of the surviving spouse, children, and parents of the deceased.”

However, the estate (through a representative) can recover on behalf of the deceased for injuries suffered prior to death in a survival cause of action. Typically, the damages recovered in this kind of wrongful death suit amount to medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering prior to death. Damages can also include funeral expenses.

Is There a Statute of Limitations?

In Texas, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim is two years from the date of your loved one’s passing. If you are considering filing a wrongful death claim, it is important to note that the time limit runs from the date of death and not from the date of the injury that results in a fatality. 

There are limited exceptions to the Texas wrongful death claim statute of limitations. Speak with our experienced wrongful death claim attorney at the Law Office of Kyle Robbins, PLLC if you believe you are in danger of missing the filing deadline. If you have already missed your deadline, contact us to see if you may qualify for one of the few exceptions to this rule.

Who Is the Beneficiary of the Legal Claim in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

As we mentioned, the beneficiary of the legal claim in a wrongful death lawsuit can only be one of three, possibly four, people: a surviving spouse, parents, children, and in some cases, the decedent’s estate.

The wrongful death statute does not recognize the claims of any other family member, like an uncle or niece. Additionally, it does not alter or add any funds or gifts that these individuals would receive under an estate plan. For instance, a child could have been expressly disinherited under an estate plan, but it would not affect their ability to sue for wrongful death. However, the facts and circumstances of the relationship status may affect their chances of recovering damages under both!

How Will a Claim of Wrongful Death Affect an Estate Plan in Texas?

How Wrongful Death Relates To Probate in Texas

The first way wrongful death claims can relate to an estate plan is whether any proceeds need to go through probate. If a representative of the estate files a survival cause of action and recovers damages that the decedent could have recovered had they been alive, then those funds likely need to go through the probate process. 

If the decedent executed a written will prior to their death, then any assets in the estate may be probated according to the will. With no will in place, settlement proceeds will pass to the person’s nearest relatives according to the laws of intestacy.

Probate Court Disposition of Settlement

As mentioned, survivor cause of action settlement proceeds may not necessarily undo the hard work that a decent put into their estate plan, nor may it require the entire estate plan to be fully probated. However, recovering these kinds of damages does introduce the probate court more fully into the proceedings. Speak with us to learn more about how we can help you navigate the complex process of probate of wrongful death and survivor action claims.

How Our Austin, TX Attorney Can Help

Contact a seasoned attorney to help you understand how to handle the challenging process of navigating the different types of wrongful death claims and handling your loved one’s estate. The lawyers at the Law Offices of Kyle Robbins, PLLC graduated at the top of their classes from prestigious law schools and are experienced litigators. They will work to attain the best possible outcome for you and yours and can help you handle difficult legal issues when you are at your most vulnerable. When you are ready to speak with an attorney about your options, contact the Law Offices of Kyle Robbins.