Losing a loved one to a fatal accident caused by another’s recklessness or neglect can leave your family struggling to get by, both emotionally and financially. If you are considering filing an Illinois wrongful death lawsuit after such an accident, you need to have a basic understanding of the process of filing a wrongful death lawsuit as well as who might be the beneficiaries of the lawsuit so that you can begin to discuss your legal options.
Survivor Action vs. Wrongful Death Action
An Illinois wrongful death claim can result in two different types of compensation: survivor action and wrongful death action. Survivor action is compensation that passes to the estate, and can include medical expenses, compensation for pain and suffering and compensation for lost wages that your loved one experienced before death. If the deceased had a will, the survivor action will be distributed according to the will’s stipulations. If your loved one did not leave a will, the estate will fall under the jurisdiction of the Statute of Intestate Descent and Distribution.
Unlike the survivor action, the wrongful death action benefits only the “next of kin” as defined by Illinois law. Wrongful death compensation can include compensation for future lost wages as well as grief for those determined “next of kin”.
Filing an Illinois Wrongful Death Claim
Not just any family member can file an Illinois wrongful death claim. If your loved one had a will, the will should stipulate who is the executor of your loved one’s estate. This can be one person, several people or an institution such as a bank. If there is no will, a person will be appointed to be an “Independent Administrator” or “Special Administrator” for the estate. The executors or administrators are the only ones who can make the decision to file an Illinois wrongful death claim.Illinois Wrongful Death Claim Beneficiaries
Illinois defines “next of kin” in a very narrow manner. Unfortunately, this narrow legal definition can leave other bereft relatives without any compensation for their loss beyond what the estate and survivor action offer.
You might think of qualified “next of kin” as a series of tiers. The first tier consists of a spouse and children. If the decedent didn’t have a spouse or children, the compensation passes to the next tier which consists of parents, brothers and sisters. If the wrongful death victim doesn’t have a spouse, children, parents or siblings, the compensation passes on to other surviving relatives as designated by law. Once a survivor is determined to be “next of kin,” other relatives who are at the next level do not get any right to recover, no matter how severe their losses are.
The law is not always fair. For example, if the deceased didn’t have a surviving spouse or children, an estranged brother may be legally entitled to a share of the wrongful death settlement even if the brother hadn’t had a relationship with his sibling for years.
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