When a family suffers the unexpected loss of a loved one, a wrongful death settlement can help provide a sense of justice and closure. The money from a wrongful death settlement is divided among family members based on South Carolina statutory law. Our personal injury law firm attorneys explain.
How are wrongful death proceeds divided in South Carolina?
Dividing wrongful death proceeds in South Carolina depends on the surviving family members of the victim. Below is a general explanation, but the allocation of settlement money can vary depending on the facts and circumstances of each case. Keep in mind, when there is a wrongful death claim, there is often a Survival Claim, which can provide compensation between the time of the incident and the death of the victim. Those funds may be distributed differently than the wrongful death claim settlement money. Generally speaking, however, for the wrongful death claim, if the deceased left behind:
- Only a Spouse (no children): The spouse gets the entire wrongful death settlement.
- Spouse and children: The spouse gets half; the children equally divide the other half.
- Children only (no spouse): The children split the proceeds equally among them.
- Parents (no surviving spouse or children): Parents split the settlement equally.*
Larger families, adoptions, step-children, dead-beat dads, and other factors can sometimes make the allocation more complex to determine. It is helpful to have a personal injury lawyer explain the potential division of any wrongful death settlement.
Wrongful Death Proceeds Distribution Examples:
Scenario One – The victim leaves behind a spouse and parents. The spouse recovers the entire amount, and the parents receive nothing.
Scenario Two – There is a surviving spouse and three children. The surviving spouse receives 1/2 of the net settlement proceeds, and the children receive 1/6 of the net settlement proceeds (All children receive ⅓ of the remaining ½ of the net proceeds).
Scenario Three – With no surviving spouse, two surviving children split the net settlement proceeds evenly. Even if the decedent’s parents are still alive, they receive nothing out of the wrongful death portion of the settlement. However, there is more on this below.
*Parents Splitting Wrongful Death Proceeds
If parents are set to receive wrongful death proceeds, the court can change the distribution amounts between them. Although the default is that each parent recovers an equal share, the court can order changes to the allocation. One way the court can change the amount awarded to a parent is if there is dead-beat dad who did not provide financial support to the victim during the victim’s childhood.
Do parents get wrongful death proceeds if there is a surviving spouse?
In South Carolina, parents do not receive wrongful death proceeds if there is a surviving spouse. The spouse receives the entire amount, to split with any children of the victim.
Do parents get wrongful death proceeds if there are surviving children?
In South Carolina, if there are surviving children, the parents of the victim do not receive wrongful death proceeds. However, parents of the deceased often assist with the case and may serve as personal representative of the estate. Depending on the facts and circumstances, the parents may still be entitled to some compensation if there is a will, a valid survival claim, and/or other factors. A personal injury attorney can help explain the different legal considerations involved.
Minor Children and Wrongful Death Proceeds
Sadly, it is no uncommon for a wrongful death victim to leave behind minor children. When that happens, the settlement money entitled to the minor children must be protected and held in custody for the minor.
The court must approve of the settlement. A parent or conservator may handle the money for the child until the child turns 18. They must file a report with the court accounting for their use of the money. Alternatively, the parties may use a structured settlement annuity to provide regular payments in specified amounts for the child.
The Role of the Personal Representative in Wrongful Death Settlement Division
Although the interested parties each receive their own respective share of the wrongful death settlement, they pursue their claims together. The personal representative of the estate is the person that is essentially in charge of the case and has the authority to settle it.
Damages in a wrongful death claim
With the beneficiaries joining together and splitting the proceeds of the wrongful death claim, the next question is what damages they can claim. South Carolina law allows the plaintiffs to claim damages that they suffer proportioned to the injury. Damages may include:
- Loss of economic and financial support
- Mental shock and suffering
- Wounded feelings
- Grief and sorrow
- Loss of the decedent’s experience, knowledge, judgment, and protection
- Parental guidance and care
- Loss of affection and companionship
- Final medical expenses
- Costs for a funeral and burial
In addition to these damages in the wrongful death claim, the estate itself can bring a survival action. The survival action covers the period between the injury and the victim’s death. It may include pain and suffering. Proceeds of a survival action go to the victim’s estate which is distributed according to their will or via intestate laws.
Wrongful Death Distribution FAQs
Can two people sue for wrongful death?
There is only one wrongful death claim, but two or more people can be beneficiaries. State law determines who can be involved and how the funds are divided.
If there are two or more beneficiaries of a wrongful death claim, who decides how to settle the case?
When there are multiple beneficiaries to a wrongful death claim, the court approved personal representative has the authority to settle the claim.
Does it matter for wrongful death if the victim has a will?
A wrongful death settlement is not distributed according to the victim’s will. State law determines how to divide the proceeds of a wrongful death settlement among beneficiaries. However, if there is a survival action, those funds are a part of the estate and subject to the victim’s will. If they have a will, it typically determines distribution of their estate. A will may also select who has the priority to serve as personal representative of the estate.
Does it matter if one of the children is illegitimate when it comes to wrongful death?
Under South Carolina law, all children have the same rights and remedies for wrongful death settlements and distribution as a child born in wedlock.
What is South Carolina law for division of wrongful death settlements?
The law for division of wrongful death settlements is South Carolina Code of Laws § 15-51-40.
Attorney for Wrongful Death Claims
There are many important steps to receiving fair compensation for a wrongful death claim. Your attorney is your leader and guide through the entire process. When you work with the Bringardner Injury Law Firm, you can feel confident that your case is in good hands. Services we provide include:
- Evaluation of fault and how to prove the full and fair value of compensation
- Preparing court documents on behalf of the personal representative and/or the estate
- Determining what losses the beneficiaries qualify to claim
- Strategizing to maximize compensation, given the strengths and weaknesses of the case
- Communicating with you throughout the proceedings so you understand your rights and options.
If you have questions about dividing a wrongful death settlement, or if you are interested in bringing a wrongful death claim, we invite you to contact us for your free consultation. We know how hard it can be to lose a loved one unexpectedly. When we represent you, you can leave everything to us.
We’re here to protect your rights and guide you through the complex legal process. Call or message us today.