Today’s vehicles are full of safety features that protect drivers and passengers during crashes. Still, car accidents remain a leading cause of death in North Carolina and across the country. In fact, in 2019, more than 36,000 Americans died in car accidents, including 1,373 residents of the Tar Heel State.
The death of a loved one can be excruciatingly painful. If you previously depended on him or her for financial support, your loved one’s death may leave you penniless. Fortunately, North Carolina law typically allows the deceased person’s estate to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver who caused the accident.
The intersection of personal injury and estate planning
Personal injury and estate planning are two distinct areas of law that do not often overlap. When it comes to filing a wrongful death claim, though, there is an intersection. Specifically, in North Carolina, only the deceased person’s personal representative has legal standing to bring a wrongful death cause of action.
If your loved one had a will at the time of his or her death, the will may designate an executor. For purposes of filing a wrongful death claim, the executor is a qualifying personal representative. If your loved one dies without a will, however, North Carolina’s intestacy laws apply. These laws dictate who the court may appoint to serve as the deceased person’s personal representative.
The beneficiaries of a wrongful death claim
While the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate must file a wrongful death claim, the estate is not the beneficiary of the claim. Rather, those who would inherit property pursuant to intestate succession rules are the beneficiary. It is important to note that the intestate succession beneficiaries may be different than those listed in your loved one’s will.
Ultimately, because wrongful death matters are both complex and time-sensitive, it is critical to understand your legal options as soon as possible after your loved one’s death.