Many people do not understand what happens to damages collected in a successful Tennessee wrongful death lawsuit. In fact, last week I received a call from a lawyer indicating that he settled a wrongful death case and did not know how to distribute the proceeds of the settlement.
The law is relatively straight-forward. The decedent’s will does not control who gets the money recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit. Instead, Tennessee law provides that the monies are distributed according to the law of intestate succession, that is, the money is distributed as if the person died without a will.
So, if a person dies with with no spouse and no children, his or her parents are entitled to the recovery of the wrongful death proceeds. If the person leaves only a surviving spouse, the parents are excluded and the spouse gets 100% of the money.
If the person dies with a surviving spouse and children, the spouse and children divide the money equally but the spouse does not receive less than one-third. So, for example, if the person dies leaving a spouse and three children, the spouse gets one-third of the money and the surviving children each receive one-third of the remaining two-thirds.
These are the most common situations. An experienced Tennessee wrongful death lawyer can guide you through the more complex situations.