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Trying for New Normal: Wrongful Death and Inheritance Claims

I. Wrongful Death, Complications, and Inheritance Issues

In an era of crises and pandemics, it may be hard to understand what “normal” really is. Recovery to a new “normal,” is especially hard after enormous upheavals. The personal loss to loved ones after sudden harm or death takes a legal expert to deal with long-lasting fallout from a wrongful death claim. Getting the right kind of qualified legal help early in the process of loss – especially after a wrongful death – often helps the later effort to recover. People sometimes focus on survival, rather than getting qualified help in the early days of loss. One example of survival instinct is not dealing with the effects of financial costs in the wake of wrongful death. People don’t usually have the emotional energy to address otherwise routine financial decisions. In the case to be discussed here, there were specific inheritance issues related to the award of wrongful death damages. The Charlotte wrongful death attorney’s search for lost receipts and even possibly hidden bank accounts was crucial to settling what happened to the proceeds from a wrongful death settlement.

Wrongful death cases involve so many different aspects of law, that it truly takes an experienced Charlotte wrongful death attorney, with significant experience in trial work, to try and be preemptive in protecting your interests. Cases involving Court Clerk supervision of estate settlement proceeds have been one of the most difficult areas that confuse the non-expert. An experienced wrongful death attorney will help guarantee that any eventual court award for a wrongful death can be properly accounted for in the estate, as well. This may involve questions of taxation or estate administration fees. In the case involving the last will and testament of General J. P., It also involved how to apply North Carolina law for wrongful death in a federal court. Ultimately, it took an experienced Charlotte wrongful death attorney to help make sure that the heirs finally had a proper accounting of how the estate administrator incorrectly accounted for fees and expenses.

II. Wrongful Death Claims & Wills, Estates, and Heirs

General J. P. had designated an attorney as personal representative: the suit was successfully settled in a federal court, for almost $300,000. Following the payment of attorney’s fees, the personal representative also took a “commission” of $133,000, plus payment to herself for expenses, totaling a little over $40,000. The personal representative then prepared to distribute the rest (or remaining) of the settlement to heirs under North Carolina’s wrongful death act. As the Charlotte wrongful death attorney eventually pointed out, however, this slim amount of remainder precluded giving to all of the General’s intended heirs. In this case, the personal representative ended up giving a share of the proceeds that were left to only one of the designated heirs.

III.   Held To Account(ing)

As the Charlotte wrongful death attorney pointed out, accountings by the Administrator are required on a regular basis for these estate settlements. When there are wrongful death awards involved, there are special rules to guide these accountings. The argument by the Charlotte wrongful death attorney in this case was that the wrongful death proceeds should’ve been fully accounted by submission: in-person, accompanied by all cancelled checks, and especially receipts. This all suggested that the Estate’s personal representative had not even told the North Carolina Superior Court clerk about the federal wrongful death action proceeds; this in turn meant that the clerk was unaware of “certain information relating to the bank accounts in which the proceeds have been deposited.”

IV.  Wrongful Death Lawyers Can Protect Heirs and Beneficiaries

They were eventually five prospective beneficiaries who worked with a wrongful death attorney to try to find out what happened to the money. At the same time, the North Carolina Superior Court revoked the letters testamentary, and awarded the beneficiaries the cost of attorney’s fees. The estate representative then tried to protect herself, and appealed to try and reinstate her authority. The core of the argument was to claim that the federal court settlement was not in any way susceptible to the North Carolina clerk’s oversight. The Charlotte wrongful death attorney won the case on appeal, and emphasized that North Carolina law actually anticipated this kind of wrongful death award… and required its proper accounting.

The key concept here related to the representative’s fiduciary responsibility. The court agreed that there was no guarantee that wrongful death actions would always provide income for an estate. But on the other hand, it more generally agreed with the Charlotte wrongful death attorney that North Carolina law focused on the fiduciary role of the personal representative. The representative’s actions were clearly covered by North Carolina law, “so long as any of the property of the estate remains in control, custody or possession” of the representative. This focus on the conduct of the representative to be essentially transparent had not happened in this case.

Conclusions:   

This case represented the challenges of proper accounting in the management of a wrongful death claim. Because the North Carolina Superior Court did not necessarily see all federal court awards, there was a gap in its information. An experienced Charlotte wrongful death attorney will know what safeguards to implement, early in the process, to prevent any misconduct. For example, it may even be necessary for a wrongful death attorney to bring in other experts to assess the scope of a wrongful death claim, for example what’s called a forensic economist –or to anticipate tax implications, or allegations of inappropriate actions.

This case involved serious questions about how to monitor and then try to recover money that was taken by the Estate’s administrator. As noted, the emotional upheaval of a wrongful death can confuse any family member. Another complicating factor in the case was the relationship between the decedent and the family members. In fact, the decedent’s daughter was an attorney. All too often, it’s possible that the surviving family members may or may not get along well together…or even have competing interests. Sometimes, the potential for intra-family conflicts require an experienced wrongful death attorney to help get a full accounting after a wrongful death claim.

If you are a family member have lost a loved one, have serious questions about how the wrongful death case is being handled, or how the estate was managed afterwards, you should consider speaking with one of our experienced attorneys.

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