If the deceased has minor children, then they are considered beneficiaries of the estate and a wrongful death lawsuit is pursued on behalf of the children. When minor children are involved, they will have a claim for expected contributions that the deceased parent would have made to them until age 18 – the age of majority in Washington state.
For example, contributions for basic living necessities and other expenses like school and/or college are recoverable. Each child also has a monetary claim for the loss of that child’s relationship with the deceased parent. This is also called a loss of consortium claim, which encompasses the child’s loss of love, protection, guidance, and affection that would have been expected from the deceased parent.
A surviving adult child may also have a claim for the wrongful death of a parent. Unless the adult child was financially dependent on the parent, the claim is usually limited to the child’s loss of his or her relationship with the parent. This is a subjective loss, so the value of the claim will depend on the strength of the relationship between the adult child and the deceased parent.
Determining Value of a Wrongful Death Claim
Generally, the stronger and closer the relationship, the higher the value of the claim. In most cases, a minor child’s claim for the loss of a parent will be much higher than the claim of an adult child. This is because the minor child is usually much more financially and emotionally dependent on the deceased parent so the parent’s death is considered a much more significant and damaging loss to the minor child.
In the case of surviving minor children, the settlement of a wrongful death action must be approved by the court. Washington law requires that all minor claims must be investigated by a person called a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) who then gives a recommendation to the court on whether the settlement is reasonable and should be approved.
The court will also decide how the settlement funds will be used and/or invested on behalf of each minor child. The purpose behind this law is to make sure that the minor’s interests are being protected and that the child will have access to the settlement funds when the child reaches age 18.