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Wrongful Death Settlements: When Minors Are Beneficiaries of the Estates

August 08, 2016

In a wrongful death action that involves a decedent who has minors or incapacitated people as beneficiaries of his or her estate, any settlement proceeds must be handled differently than cases in which there are no minors who are beneficiaries. The process differs in order to protect minors and incapacitated persons who stand to inherit from the estate. Wrongful death lawyers Chicago may explain how the process works when their cases involve estates that have minors and incapacitated adults as third-party beneficiaries.

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Requirements to Probate Settlements

When a person is killed by negligent or wrongful acts of another person or entity, his or her family may file a wrongful death civil lawsuit. Wrongful death lawyers in Chicago represent their clients’ estates when they file lawsuits. If a settlement is reached, an attorney must seek the approval of the probate court before the settlement will be allowed to proceed if there are minors or incapacitated adults who stand to inherit from the estate. Once the funds are received, the attorney must then probate any amounts of $5,000 or more. The money that is allocated for the minors or the incapacitated adults is then administered and distributed under the supervision of the probate court.

Reasons Why the Rules Are In Place

The state of Illinois believes that incapacitated adults and minors should be protected when they inherit money as a matter of public policy. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous people sometimes take advantage of minors and adults who have disabilities who are in their care. In one Illinois case, a

woman and her disabled adult son each inherited $118,000 from an estate. The woman deposited all of the money into a joint account. She was the legal guardian of her son but not of the son’s estate. Later, it was discovered that the woman had spent almost all of the money in the account. The settlement was not approved by the probate court and was not supervised by it. This meant that the disabled adult was left with very little because his mother had stolen it from him and spent it. The wrongful death attorney who handled the case was found to have owed a legal duty to the incapacitated adult son as a third-party beneficiary of the estate despite the fact that the lawyer said that he only had answered to the estate’s personal representative during the case.

Supervision and Administration

For settlement amounts that are larger than $10,000, the guardians of the minors or incapacitated adults petition the courts to either have the awards distributed directly to trust accounts that will be managed on behalf of the wards or to the guardian to hold and administer for them. When the ward needs to get money for a purchase, the trust administrator or the guardian will need to approve it before the money is distributed to him or her. This is to help prevent others from taking money from the minor or the incapacitated person.

Settlements Not Enforceable Without Probate Court Approval

When minors and incapacitated adults are the next of kin of the decedent in a wrongful death case, any settlement that may be negotiated will not be enforceable until and unless the settlement offer is submitted to the court for its approval. The judge must find that the settlement that has been negotiated on behalf of the ward is one that is fair and reasonable. Once a settlement is approved, the court will issue an order directing that the proceeds are only to be paid to the guardian who is appointed to administer the funds on behalf of the minor or incapacitated person. The court may also order that the funds are paid into a trust account for that purpose and discharge the guardian afterward.

The funds that the minors receive in settlements will normally be administered on their behalf until they reach age 18. When minors reach adulthood, they may then petition to have the balance of the funds distributed to them. Incapacitated adults may do the same if they are no longer incapacitated. They would first need to petition the court and have hearings to establish that they are not incapacitated any longer.

The process for a wrongful death case may take months before wrongful death lawyers in Chicago reach a settlement. With the requirements in place to seek probate court approval before a settlement can be accepted, the state is simply working to protect the interests of minors and incapacitated adults who are third-party beneficiaries of their loved ones’ estates. Wrongful death lawyers in Chicago understand that some people may find the requirements to be draconian, but they are in place in order to protect people who might otherwise be taken advantage of.

If you have been injured in a personal injury or medical malpractice accident, do not hesitate to contact the Chicago accident and injury law firm of Cogan & Power at (312) 477-2500 to schedule a free case consultation, so that we can help you begin the process of recovery as soon as possible. If you cannot come to our offices in downtown Chicago, we will come to you. And because we take cases on a contingency basis, you will not pay any fee unless we get you compensation.