Using wrongful death laws, the survivors of a deceased person who was killed through the negligence or intentional actions of another can collect compensation for a number of damages, one of which is the loss of inheritance. Obtaining compensation through this statute can be challenging, though, because of what you're required to prove. Here's what you need to know to help you prepare your case.
You Must Produce the Law that Allows It
The first step in the process of collecting compensation for the loss of inheritance is to ensure your state allows this type of wrongful death claim. Some states expressly forbid this type of action. Others don't have specific statutes on the books, so you would need to find support for it in case law.
The loss of inheritance statute can provide for recovery of a significant amount of money, but don't panic if your state doesn't allow the claim. Wrongful death law provides a number of damages that survivors can obtain compensation for, and you may be able to get the same amount of money using a different request type.
You Have to Show How Much the Person Would've Contributed
Another challenge you'll have to overcome is showing how much more the person would've contributed to his or her estate if the individual hadn't prematurely died. This is typically done by calculating the person's expected income and expenses for their remaining years and seeing how much is left over when you subtract the expected expenses from the expected income.
For instance, if the person was expected to make an additional $500,000 in income and pay $350,000 in expenses, then the survivors would be entitled to the remaining $150,000 that would've been contributed to the estate if he or she had lived.
Unfortunately, calculating expected contribution isn't always as simple as that. The courts will look at a number of factors when determining how much to award, such as:
- Expected income based on education, work history, and prospects
- Illnesses that required long-term or specialized care
- Family financial obligations (e.g. child support, school fees)
- Future assets the decedent would've obtained (e.g. inheritance from parents)
- Maturing investments
- Life insurance policies
- Retirement accounts, pensions, and similar job-related benefits
Calculating expected contributions can get pretty complex and don't always turn out as anticipated. It's best to work with an attorney who can arrange for experts to review your documentation and provide the court with definitive answers that may help you secure the compensation you are owed.
You Must Prove You Would've Been a Beneficiary
Even if you are able to show how much inheritance the decedent would've left behind, you could still lose your case if you can't prove the money and assets would've been left to you in a will or by law. Some beneficiaries are fairly obvious. For instance, courts usually don't question whether spouses or children would be beneficiaries since the law typically automatically assigns them as such in these situations.
There may be issues in cases when the plaintiff isn't a close relative who would automatically benefit, there is documentation directly denying an inheritance to the plaintiff, the beneficiary would've died before the decedent, or other similar special circumstances. For example, the New Brunswick Court of Appeal denied the loss of inheritance claim for a pair of sisters because the decedent's niece was expected to outlive the youngest sister by 30 years.
To win in a loss of inheritance case, you'll need to clearly show you would've been one of the decedent's beneficiaries. This can be done in a number of ways, such as producing a will, using relevant inheritance statutes, or providing witness testimony detailing what the decedent's wishes were. An attorney can help you gather the proof necessary for making your case.
For assistance with your wrongful death claim, contact an attorney in your area.