This article provides a brief explanation as to how someone can obtain reimbursement for advanced funeral costs after a wrongful death.
Within a few hours of a death, the coroner’s office, hospital or other authorities will begin asking the more accessible family members about their choice for a funeral home. When the death has been sudden or unexpected it can result in family members who may or may not be the next of kin, agreeing to pay for the funeral. It is not unusual for those expenses for a traditional service to be $5,000-$10,000.
When an unexpected death is due to the fault or negligence of someone else, it is called a wrongful death. These claims may arise from automobile accidents, medical malpractice, or whenever you had a death that could have been prevented had someone been more careful. Other than wrongful death claims, South Carolina also recognizes a claim for death regardless of fault in work related accidents.
The individual or company who is responsible for a wrongful death will be responsible for the cost of the funeral. This is in addition to the other legal damages that they are responsible for which could include final medical expenses, lost wages, pre-death pain & suffering, and emotional loss to the surviving family members. When an individual or company is responsible for a wrongful death usually the cost will be the responsibility of their insurance company.
Normally the party responsible for a wrongful death will not advance the cost of the funeral until a total settlement has been reached or their legal responsibility has been determined by a court. This means that you have to wait to be reimbursed until you can settle everything, including dollar amounts for things other than the funeral.
The lawyer chosen to assist with the wrongful death claim will assist with opening an estate in Probate Court. It is important that the person seeking reimbursement formally file the request for reimbursement with the estate and the Probate Court.
It normally takes several months after a death (even if legal responsibility is clear) to get the final bills together necessary to settle a wrongful death claim. The settlement will also have to be approved by the Court. In most cases this is a simple hearing that only takes a few minutes. The Court will then order that the funeral expense be reimbursed as one of the first things to be paid (before other creditors or inheritances). In a straightforward case this may be 3-6 months after death. In a more complicated case (such as medical malpractice), it may take up to a year or more to obtain reimbursement.
If the death is not considered a legal wrongful death or work related, then reimbursement for the funeral expenses would be from the personal assets of the person who died their life insurance or by payment from other family members. If none of these sources are available then it may not be possible to ever obtain reimbursement.
If you are in the position of having to advance funeral expenses on behalf of a family member or friend, there are some things you can do to help ensure that you are reimbursed in a timely manner:
- Obtain a clear understanding and agreement with the surviving next of kin that you will be reimbursed. This may include the surviving spouse, children, parents or siblings.
- Keep a record of your payment to the funeral home include your cancelled check and receipt.
- Notify the Probate Court of your intention to obtain reimbursement by filing a creditor claim with the estate (a lawyer can help you with this process).
- Ensure that a lawyer is hired to oversee the settlement of any wrongful death claim, including the submission of the claim to all necessary insurance companies (there can be more than one policy may be applicable).
- Personally attend or have your lawyer attend any settlement approval hearing in court to make sure that your claim will be timely processed.