Handling Settlements When Your Client Dies Unexpectedly
When the claimant dies before finalizing the settlement agreement, case resolution is further complicated. Working with an experienced settlement consultant from the onset helps avoid obstacles and creates a smoother process for all parties.
Survival Laws and Emotional Burdens
Survival laws vary by state, but generally carry these stipulations:
- The surviving claimant is the legal representative of the deceased claimant;
- Before death, the deceased claimant initiated or was entitled to initiate a cause of action against the defendant; and
- The defendant’s wrongful act caused the injury and subsequent death of the deceased.
Sounds straightforward, right? Do not forget the human component. When the claimant dies mid-litigation, emotions create additional hurdles outside of civil procedure. Not only do you, the attorney, have additional filing to do, but you must also contend with new needs from the surviving family. That’s where your settlement consultant comes in.
Streamlining the Case with a Settlement Consultant
The importance of working with a settlement consultant on every case cannot be understated. Sage’s team has relationships with estate planning and elder law attorneys across the country, along with experts who specialize in lien resolution, government benefits, financial planning, and more. Most importantly, Sage consultants value our clients’ trust and understand how to navigate delicate emotional situations with surviving family members.
Here is an example of what that looks like:
Your client is a 46-year-old man who suffered severe brain damage in a car accident. He is currently on life support. Your legal team is moving as quickly as possible, but there is a possibility that he will die before finalizing the settlement. His surviving family includes his wife and two children.
Your settlement consultant will:
- Meet with the family to prioritize present and future financial needs. Will there be outstanding medical bills? Will the wife need supplemental income? Will the children need funds for college? Will an income tax-free structured settlement make sense for this family?
- Determine whether any needs-based government benefits (e.g., Medicaid, SSI, etc.) will be affected by the settlement. If so, incorporate eligibility preservation into the overall plan.
- Bring in a lien resolution specialist to review any existing liens, potentially reduce them, and prevent delays in settlement disbursement.
- Connect the wife with a trust expert to determine whether minors’ trusts are appropriate.
- Engage with a local estate planning and elder law attorney to help the wife proactively manage any potential probate issues.
- Help you review your tax-advantaged attorney fee deferral options.
If your client dies before settlement, his wife and children will be faced with another traumatic life transition. Having a plan and working through a process will offer a sense of calm and facilitate smoother decision-making.
Contact Sage’s Settlement Experts Today
Sage’s consultants have helped guide families and plaintiff attorneys through even the most complex cases. Contact us today to streamline your client’s settlement and help the surviving family find peace.