Most people assume that death will end a person's legal woes -- but that isn't always the case. Some lawsuits can easily survive the defendant's death -- and some can even start after an individual dies!
Most people don't think of estates this way, but they're really legal entities under the law. Because of this, they are treated like a person for many purposes -- including when it comes to lawsuits. If an estate is sued in a timely manner, all of the assets in the estate may be held up pending the disposition of the lawsuit.
What are the most common reasons that an estate gets sued?
1. A creditor makes a claim.
Most of the time, debts owed by the deceased either get paid off by the estate or discharged by the creditor -- depending on the laws of the state and the type of debt involved. However, sometimes a creditor will sue an estate to collect what he or she is owed.
2. An heir is unhappy.
Heirs often sue estates for various reasons. Sometimes they don't like how the assets are supposed to be divided, so they sue over that. Often, however, lawsuits by heirs are directed at the executors of an estate when they're accused of mishandling the estate's funds, taking inappropriate sums of money for themselves and failing to follow the terms of a will or trust.
3. The deceased was already involved in a lawsuit.
If the deceased was in a lawsuit at the time of his or her death, the estate may end up standing in the deceased's place while the lawsuit continues -- although that sometimes can change depending on the assets and insurance available.
4. A claim arises at the moment of death.
Sometimes a person will create a cause of action for a lawsuit at the moment of death. For example, imagine that someone dies after hitting another car while drunk driving. The people in the other car would have the right to bring a personal injury claim against the deceased's estate (or their family members could bring a wrongful death claim).
Because there are a lot of complex issues involved with estates, there are many nuances to the issue that can't be covered easily. That makes it important to consult with an attorney about any questions you have regarding estates and lawsuits.
Source: FindLaw, "Can You Sue a Dead Person?," Andrew Chow, accessed May 11, 2018