Understanding Wrongful Death and Probate: Navigating Legal Complexities

The loss of a loved one is a profoundly challenging experience, made even more complex when the death results from someone else’s negligence or misconduct. In such cases, the surviving family may have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit, which often intersects with probate proceedings. Understanding these legal processes and how they interact can help families navigate this difficult time with greater clarity.

What is Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death occurs when an individual dies due to the negligent, reckless, or intentional actions of another person or entity. Common examples include deaths resulting from medical malpractice, car accidents, workplace accidents, or criminal acts. The primary aim of a wrongful death lawsuit is to seek compensation for the survivors’ losses, which may include:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Medical bills related to the deceased’s final injury or illness
  • Lost wages and benefits the deceased would have provided
  • Loss of companionship, care, and guidance

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

In most jurisdictions, only certain individuals have the legal standing to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Typically, these include:

  • The surviving spouse
  • Children of the deceased
  • Parents of a deceased minor
  • Other relatives who were financially dependent on the deceased

The Role of Probate in Wrongful Death Cases

Probate is the legal process through which a deceased person’s estate is managed and distributed. This process includes validating the will, paying off debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining assets to the rightful heirs.

When a wrongful death claim is involved, the probate process can become more intricate for several reasons:

  1. Estate Administration: If the deceased had a will, the appointed executor is responsible for managing the estate. In the absence of a will, the court appoints an administrator. This person may also need to handle the wrongful death claim or appoint someone else to do so.
  2. Settlement and Compensation: Any compensation received from a wrongful death lawsuit typically becomes part of the deceased’s estate. The funds are distributed according to the will or state intestacy laws if there is no will. This means the probate process must be completed to ensure all debts are settled before beneficiaries receive their share.
  3. Timeframes and Legal Procedures: Wrongful death claims and probate proceedings have specific timeframes and legal requirements that must be followed. Navigating these can be complex, particularly when they overlap. For instance, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit varies by state, as does the timeframe for initiating probate.

Why Legal Guidance is Crucial

Handling wrongful death and probate simultaneously requires careful legal navigation. The processes can be emotionally and legally taxing, often requiring expertise in both personal injury law and estate law. Here are key reasons to seek professional legal assistance:

  • Expertise: An attorney specializing in wrongful death and probate can help ensure all legal procedures are followed correctly, maximizing the potential for a successful outcome.
  • Coordination: Legal professionals can coordinate the wrongful death claim and probate process, ensuring that compensation is appropriately handled and distributed.
  • Peace of Mind: Having legal support can alleviate some of the burdens during an emotionally challenging time, allowing family members to focus on healing and remembrance.


The intersection of wrongful death and probate can be complex and overwhelming for grieving families. Understanding the basics of these processes and seeking professional legal guidance can make a significant difference. By effectively managing the wrongful death claim and probate proceedings, families can ensure that justice is served, and that the deceased’s estate is properly administered, providing a measure of relief and closure during a difficult time. If you need assistance navigating through this tough experience, please reach out to the Davis Schilken, PC Team! We are here help (303)670-9855.