How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Paid Out in Michigan?

Losing a loved one is never easy. At a time like this, you deserve all the love and support you need. But when a loved one is taken from you due to the careless act of someone else, you deserve something else: justice and accountability.

In Michigan, family members (and even non-family members mentioned in a loved one’s will) may be eligible to receive compensation for the loss of their loved one by filing a wrongful death claim. While nothing could ever replace the loss you feel from the death of a spouse, parent, child, or close friend, the money from a wrongful death settlement can help cover medical bills and funeral expenses, replace lost income and benefits, and rebuild.

Unfortunately, Michigan’s wrongful death laws can be complicated—especially when determining how wrongful death settlements are distributed and how much each beneficiary can receive. This can lead to a lot of anxiety, stress, frustration, and even family disputes when everyone should be coming together to support one another.

We know it’s hard to talk about money so soon after a tragedy. But it’s an important and necessary conversation to have if you’re considering a wrongful death suit. In this blog post, we’ll provide an overview of how wrongful death settlements work in Michigan, who can receive benefits, and how they’re distributed. But we also strongly encourage you to talk with an experienced personal injury lawyer. They can do the hard work of gathering evidence, talking with witnesses, and fighting to secure you and your family a fair settlement—giving you the time and space you need to focus on supporting each other.

What Is Wrongful Death? A Brief Overview

In simple terms, wrongful death occurs when one person is killed, directly or indirectly, due to the negligence of another person or organization. For example, if a loved one is killed in a car accident caused by a distracted driver, their family members may be able to bring a wrongful death claim against the at-fault person or parties.

Your loved one doesn’t have to die at the scene of the accident. If your loved one passes away several weeks or months after the incident, it might still be considered wrongful death if the ultimate cause was a negligent act.

“Negligence” simply means that the party that caused the death failed to exercise reasonable care and concern for your loved one, and that failure—in legal terms, “breach of duty of care”—is what caused the death.

In many ways, wrongful death claims are very similar to personal injury claims. In fact, Michigan law specifically states that if the victim could have filed a personal injury lawsuit if they had lived, their family can file a wrongful death suit.

The major difference, aside from the victim having passed away, is what damages can be claimed. While personal injury claims are meant to compensate injury victims for their financial losses and emotional suffering, wrongful death claims are mainly intended to benefit loved ones for the financial and emotional losses of no longer having the deceased family member in their lives.

Wrongful Death Damages in Michigan

Surviving family members of the deceased may recover compensation for both economic and non-economic losses they have experienced due to their loved one’s death. Examples include:

  • Medical expenses that were incurred before the victim’s death
  • Pain and suffering experienced by the deceased before they died
  • Funeral costs and burial expenses
  • Loss of earnings, benefits, and other financial support that your loved one would have provided to you had they survived
  • Loss of companionship, care, love, and guidance
  • Loss of consortium (marital relationship with the surviving spouse)
  • The emotional pain and anguish experienced by the victim’s family members
  • Punitive damages meant to punish the at-fault party for excessive recklessness or malice

RELATED: Our Results – CBH Attorneys & Counselors

A Closer Look at How Wrongful Death Settlements Are Paid Out in Michigan

If you believe you may be entitled to compensation for a loved one’s death, there are several key pieces of information you need to know.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit in Michigan?

In Michigan, a wrongful death suit must be filed by the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. This person is also sometimes called the executor and is appointed by the court.

If your loved one left a will, it should have named a personal representative. If there is no will, or the person named is deceased or incapacitated, another person will be appointed by the court according to a priority order set by Michigan law. Most often, this will be the spouse or other heir or beneficiary of the deceased.

In Michigan, there is a three-year statute of limitations for wrongful death cases. If you do not file a lawsuit within three years of a loved one’s death, you will not be able to recover compensation.

Who Is Eligible for Compensation from a Wrongful Death Settlement in Michigan?

Michigan’s wrongful death statute recognizes the following individuals as eligible to receive compensation from a wrongful death settlement:

  • Spouse
  • Children
  • Grandchildren
  • Parents
  • Grandparents
  • Siblings
  • The inheritor of the deceased person’s estate, if none of the close relatives listed above are still living
  • Children of the surviving spouse
  • Anyone the deceased person left property to in their will

However, it’s important to understand that, even if you are eligible to receive compensation under Michigan law, that does not necessarily mean you will. There are additional steps you will need to take.

Will I Receive Compensation?

Once the personal representative has filed the wrongful death lawsuit, they are required to send written notice and a copy of the lawsuit to any eligible beneficiaries within 30 days.

After the process begins, there are two important deadlines you’ll have to consider:

  • First, after notice of the lawsuit has been mailed to you, you will have 60 days to provide any evidence of damages you have suffered as a result of your loved one’s death. If you do not provide any details to the personal representative, it could mean that you get significantly less (or even nothing at all) from the wrongful death settlement.
  • Second, after a settlement has been obtained, the court will order a hearing to determine how the proceeds should be distributed. Once again, the personal representative is required to provide notice to all eligible beneficiaries about the hearing. You will need to present a “claim for damages” to the personal representative before this hearing. If you do not, you will not be able to obtain any compensation.

Ideally, all family members entitled to compensation will discuss the situation before filing a claim to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible. However, this is not always the case. If you unexpectedly receive notice of a wrongful death lawsuit in which you are an eligible beneficiary, you will need to act quickly if you wish to make a claim. We strongly recommend you reach out to an experienced wrongful death lawyer if you find yourself in this situation.

How Much Will Each Beneficiary Receive?

In many states, the “shares” paid out in wrongful death settlements are strictly determined by law. Usually, it’s according to how the estate would be divided if the deceased did not leave a will.

Michigan does things differently. There are no set payment amounts or percentages for specific beneficiaries.

According to Michigan law, the settlement amount distributed to each individual will be based on what the court or jury “considers fair and equitable considering the relative damages sustained by each of the persons and the estate of the deceased.” For example, spouses and children are typically much more financially and emotionally impacted by a wrongful death than more distant relatives and can claim significantly more in damages.

Does the Court Have to Decide How Much Each Beneficiary Receives? Can We Just Agree as a Family?

Michigan law does allow for this in limited circumstances. If all potential beneficiaries are legally competent adults, they can sign a stipulation agreement in writing, designating how much each will receive. If they do so, the court is required to honor it.

However, if any of the potential beneficiaries are children, “disappeared adults,” not legally competent to make their own decisions, or refuse to agree to the stipulation agreement, the court will have the ultimate authority to determine the distribution.

How Will I Be Paid?

In most cases, loved ones will receive their compensation in a lump sum payment from the insurance company representing the at-fault party. However, in some cases a structured settlement might be preferred by both the insurance company and beneficiary. We recommend speaking with an attorney about what options may be available and would make the most sense for your situation.

How Much Does the Estate Receive?

Certain damages in wrongful death lawsuits are paid directly to the estate of the deceased.

Any portion of the settlement that is meant to cover “reasonable medical, hospital, funeral, and burial expenses” will be paid to the estate to settle those debts.

Further, any damages that are awarded for your loved one’s “conscious suffering” in the period between the incident and their death will also go to the estate. Those funds would then, ultimately, get distributed with the rest of the estate—either according to your loved one’s will, or according to state law for those who pass away without leaving a will.

Are Wrongful Death Settlements Taxable?

In most cases, the answer is no. Settlements are meant to make victims “whole” and compensate them for the economic and non-economic losses that have been taken for them. Thus, they don’t count as income.

The exception would be if the settlement includes punitive damages. Because these damages are intended to punish the at-fault party rather than compensate victims for losses, this portion of the settlement would be taxable.

Ask Our Experienced Lawyers for Help

Michigan’s wrongful death rules are extremely complex, especially when it comes to calculating damages and dividing a fair settlement between multiple beneficiaries.

The last thing you should be worried about so soon after the death of a loved one is the legal complexities of a wrongful death case. You deserve time and space to mourn and focus on your family.

The compassionate legal team at CBH Attorneys & Counselors understand the importance of putting relationships first, especially when it comes to wrongful death lawsuits. Our goal is to take as much of the anxiety and stress out of the process as possible. We do this in many ways, including:

  • Thoroughly investigating the cause of death to establish the fault of the other party.
  • Discovering all potential sources of insurance coverage that apply to your situation.
  • Thoroughly documenting all the ways a wrongful death impacted you and your family, from adding up lost wages and benefits to talking with family members, colleagues, friends, and others with firsthand knowledge of the emotional toll that your loved one’s death has taken from you.
  • Regularly keeping you updated about your case and always being available to answer any questions or concerns you have.
  • Connecting you with support groups, financial assistance programs, and other resources and tools that may help.

If you’ve lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, please don’t hesitate to reach out to CBH Attorneys & Counselors for a free consultation. We want to get to know you, hear your story, and provide compassionate and unbiased legal advice. To schedule your consultation with our team in either Grand Rapids or Kalamazoo, fill out our quick contact form today or call us at (616) 608-3061.


MCL 600.2922

MCL 700.3924

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

Contact CBH Attorneys & Counselors Today

If you have questions about your legal options, we’re ready to speak with you. If you or a loved one are in need of legal assistance, contact us today to schedule a consultation with a member of our team.

Talk to the Team at CBH Attorneys & Counselors Today