In New Jersey, only the decedent’s personal representative (or executor) can sue for wrongful death. Nevertheless, the wrongful death lawsuit will benefit the decedent’s spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, nieces, and/or nephews – depending on who is eligible to recover under intestate law.
To recover compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit, the personal representative must show pecuniary (financial) loss and create a plan for distributing the settlement or verdict.
Priorities Under NJ’s Intestate Laws
Typically, the deceased person’s spouse and children are entitled to compensation first, then their parents can recover. If the deceased person was unmarried or did not have children, parents will split the settlement or verdict equally.
In some situations, the deceased person’s brothers and sisters are also entitled to compensation, along with their children (the deceased person’s nieces and nephews). If the decedent has grandchildren, the future generation may be entitled to some of the settlement or verdict, as well.
What Is a Personal Representative?
A personal representative or executor is an individual who protects your property after you die. You can name your personal representative in your will and choose anyone you trust. Your personal representative is responsible for protecting your property until any debts and taxes have been paid off – and transferring the remainder of your property to the beneficiaries you name in your will.
If you do not have a will, or you fail to name a personal representative, the court will pick one for you. Without a will, the court will also determine who is entitled to your estate.
Generally, any wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of you and your beneficiaries will be considered as part of your estate. Because the lawsuit is an outstanding part of your estate, your personal representative will need to finalize the settlement or verdict before your beneficiaries can inherit the property you left behind.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim
To win a wrongful death claim, your personal representative must work closely with your beneficiaries. This is because a successful wrongful death claim hinges on the damages your loved ones have suffered. For example, if your spouse and children depended on you financially before your death, they will be entitled to the income you would have provided had you survived.
Although the personal representative must be the one to hire an attorney and make a claim in court, the surviving beneficiaries are the ones who recover compensation, and they are an important part of the case.
Often, a surviving spouse, child, or family member will urge the personal representative to file a lawsuit. Sometimes, the surviving spouse is the personal representative and the lawsuit themselves.
Wrongful death lawsuits can be complicated, but you do not have to navigate them alone. Whether you are a personal representative or beneficiary, you can contact an attorney for assistance.
At Palmisano & Goodman, P.A., we would be proud to help you. Our attorneys have over 100+ combined years of experience and the skill it takes to secure a favorable outcome. We can provide you with honest advice, zealous representation, and personal attention – and we will never charge you legal fees unless we recover compensation on your behalf.
For a free, confidential consultation, please call us at (732) 709-4400 or contact us online today.