Ambridge, PA asked in Wrongful Death and Probate for Pennsylvania

Q: One of my sisters was named as the executor of my mother’s will.

That sister opened a wrongful death suit against the nursing home my mother died in. From attorney answers online I was told that the settlement is supposed to be split up between all my mothers children. No one is in contact with the sister who opened the case and her children have said that she plans to split the money up amongst them. Is this legal? How would myself and my other siblings go about making sure the sister who is the executor actually splits up the amount seeing as she is trying to keep the whole amount of the settlement?

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2 Lawyer Answers
Elizabeth Tarasi
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  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Licensed in Pennsylvania

A: According to Section 8301 of the Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act, the wrongful death action seeks to compensate a decedent’s loved ones for the death of the decedent when that death was caused by the negligence, unlawful violence, neglect, or wrongful act of another. Traditionally, wrongful death actions sought to compensate the decedent’s family for the economic loss caused by the decedent’s death, usually by awarding damages for the income the decedent would have earned had he or she lived. These damages include the reasonable hospital, nursing, medical, funeral expenses and expenses of administration necessitated by reason of the injuries causing death, as well as the funds the decedent would have contributed to his or her family and the monetary value of the services, society and comfort the decedent would have provided to his or her family had the decedent lived. However, under the Pennsylvania Superior Court’s holding in Rettger v. UPMC, 991 A.2d 915 (Pa. Super. 2010), wrongful death actions can compensate the decedent’s loved ones for the emotional and psychological loss that accompanies the decedent’s death, which is extremely difficult to quantify.

The potential beneficiaries of a wrongful death award are limited to the spouse, children, and/or parents of the decedent. Under Section 8301(b) of the Wrongful Death Act, the beneficiaries’ shares of the wrongful death award are determined by the intestacy laws of Pennsylvania, which determine how an individual’s estate passes if he or she dies without a will. The wrongful death portion will pass according to intestacy laws even if the decedent did execute a will prior to his or her death.

In contrast, Section 8302 of the Wrongful Death Act defines survival actions as the causes of action that the decedent would have been able to bring for the injuries he or she suffered had the decedent survived. Since the decedent is unfortunately not able to personally recover from this lawsuit, the decedent’s estate is the beneficiary of any proceeds recovered for the survival actions. The survival action proceeds are distributed to the decedent’s heirs as identified in his or her will or per the laws of intestacy (if the decedent died without a will).

The survival action proceeds will be distributed to the estate’s personal representative to be held, administered through the probate process, and distributed with the decedent’s estate. The survival action proceeds are subject to the Pennsylvania inheritance tax and the federal estate tax, and can be used to satisfy the claims of any estate creditors. The survival action proceeds must also be included on the Inventory filed with the Register of Wills. If the survival action award is received after the filing of the estate’s Inheritance Tax Return (REV-1500) and Inventory, the personal representative must file a Supplemental REV-1500 and Supplemental Inventory within thirty (30) days of the award. Once all taxes and creditors have been paid, the personal representative will distribute the survival action proceeds according to the terms of the decedent’s will or the laws of intestacy.

Peter N. Munsing
Peter N. Munsing
  • Wyomissing, PA
  • Licensed in Pennsylvania

A: First, make sure you are listed in the filing. Go to the courthouse for the county where your mother lived.

Second there should be an attorney handling the estate. Make sure he has everyone's addresses and contact information.

The division is set by statute. Protection is set by vigilance. Go in person. Do the legwork.

1 user found this answer helpful

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