Wrongful Death Settlements

The probate litigation practice at the law firm of James Bart Leonardi LLC includes probate court proceedings for approval of the distribution of settlements in wrongful death cases. Located in Westlake, the firm serves clients in Cleveland and throughout northeast Ohio.

Attorney Bart Leonardi applies his extensive litigation and finance experience in addressing the complex and sensitive issues relating to the distribution of a wrongful death settlement or verdict. Mr. Leonardi works with plaintiffs’ attorneys, personal representatives referred by plaintiffs’ attorneys, and clients seeking assistance with wrongful death claims.

Ohio Wrongful Death Lawsuits

When a person causes the death of another individual by “wrongful act, neglect, or default,” Ohio law authorizes the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate to file a wrongful death action on behalf of the estate and surviving family members.

Generally, family members who may recover in a wrongful death action include the deceased person’s surviving spouse, children, and parents. Other family members also may recover if they can prove specific losses. Those entitled to relief in a wrongful death action are not necessarily the same individuals who are the beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate.

The probate court has sole jurisdiction over any wrongful death settlement or verdict. Under complex statutory rules, the probate court must approve the distribution. For this phase of the wrongful death case, assistance from a knowledgeable probate litigation attorney with experience in wrongful death settlements is strongly recommended. This is one of the main reasons many plaintiff’s attorneys retain us.

Distribution of Damages in an Ohio Wrongful Death Action

Under the statute, the method of distribution depends on the relationships of the beneficiaries to each other. The beneficiaries may agree to a distribution allocation themselves, subject to court approval. However, if they fail to agree, the court will adjust the shares for them on the same equitable basis.

For minor beneficiaries there are several options:

  • Wrongful Death Trust – A trust that allows the money to be distributed under controlled circumstances until the age of 25. Once the child turns 25, the remaining proceeds are paid out and the trust is terminated. It is a way to protect against the child receiving a lump sum payment of all remaining proceeds at the young age of 18.
  • Special Needs Trust - This is a trust that helps preserves the settlement proceeds protects against the proceeds disqualifying the minor from government benefits he or she is receiving. These trusts involve an intricate understanding of the various Medicaid and Social Security rules as well as the tax code. They should only be drafted by experienced estate planning and probate attorneys.
  • Structured settlement - Structured settlements are guaranteed payments that are paid at specific times to the injured minor and can be stretched out over a period of time that makes sense dependent on each individual case.
  • Payment directly to a court appointed guardian for the benefit of the minor.

Trust in an Experienced Ohio Wrongful Death Settlement Attorney

Navigating through a probate court proceeding for distribution of wrongful death proceeds requires substantial skill and knowledge. Familiarity with applicable laws, including those concerning wrongful death damages, and local court rules is just the beginning. A wrongful death case also requires an understanding of complicated financial principles.

Attorney Bart Leonardi is a Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law by the Ohio State Bar Association. He has substantial probate court litigation and financial experience. His estate planning practice includes complex trust planning, which provides him with the knowledge and skill essential to presenting the application to approve wrongful death settlement in order to secure court approval.

Probate litigation is a focus of Mr. Leonardi’s practice. Clients count on him to handle tough issues and vigorously advocate on their behalf. In wrongful death settlement proceedings, clients particularly appreciate Mr. Leonardi’s compassion for family members who suffered the wrongful loss of a loved one and his sensitivity about the issues that can arise in the context of allocating the proceeds of the case.

If you need assistance with obtaining probate court approval for distribution of a wrongful settlement, please contact James Bart Leonardi LLC to schedule a consultation.

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