How To Divide A Wrongful Death Settlement In Utah

Posted on January 24, 2024

When a close family member dies it brings a cascade of consequences to loved ones left behind, including financial losses as well as grief and anguish, according to our Salt Lake City wrongful death attorney.

If the death was the direct result of an individual’s or business’s carelessness, recklessness, or wrongful behavior, they are liable for the consequences—known as “damages” in a personal injury claim.

Compensation in a wrongful death claim includes amounts for damages such as medical expenses before the death, funeral costs, and compensation for the loss of wages and benefits for the number of years the decedent had remained to them had they survived.

When a wrongful death claim ends in a settlement or jury award for damages, the family members left behind sometimes experience difficulties in dividing the settlement amount.

If there is only one heir, such as a spouse, the settlement goes directly to the heir, but what if there are multiple heirs, such as a spouse and grown children? How is a wrongful death settlement divided among heirs?

When Heirs Agree on Dividing a Wrongful Death Settlement

In the best-case scenario after recovering a settlement for wrongful death, the close surviving family members can agree on how to divide and distribute the amount of the settlement.

For example, a surviving spouse and two surviving adult children may evenly divide a $180,000 settlement and distribute $60,000 to each survivor. A judge typically agrees to any reasonable division of the settlement when family members agree.

If a minor child is involved, the judge needs to approve the child’s portion of the settlement and may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child’s best interests during the distribution process.

What if Surviving Heirs Disagree on the Distribution of the Wrongful Death Settlement?

In some cases, surviving family members disagree on how the settlement portions are distributed. They may argue that it wasn’t the way the deceased loved one would have wished, or one family member might believe they are entitled to a greater portion.

In these cases, a judge considers the extent to which each family member depended on the decedent for support.

For instance, a spouse and children were likely more dependent on the deceased family member’s income than the decedent’s retired parents or a sibling.

When disputes arise over the allocation of wrongful death compensation, a judge may order the family to attend mediation to resolve the disputes.

If mediation doesn’t result in an agreement, one or more beneficiaries can take the matter to court with a lawsuit; however, that typically dissolves a significant amount of the compensation through attorney’s fees and court charges.

A judge may also order the family members to attend arbitration, during which an impartial panel decides the distribution for them. Family members may accept the decision or can file an appeal.

Family members may choose between lump-sum payments of their portion of the wrongful death compensation or structured payments over a period of time.

Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims in Utah

Any wrongful death lawsuit or a lawsuit disputing the distribution of the funds in a wrongful death claim must be filed within two years of the family member’s death.