A wrongful death creates unimaginable grief and uncertainty. Families are left to process their grief while they worry about the future. One of the questions you need to answer is how you will pay for a funeral after a wrongful death claim. Our Colorado wrongful death attorneys explain what you need to know.
How Can We Afford a Funeral After a Wrongful Death?
You can pay for the funeral after a wrongful death by bringing a legal claim against the party or parties that are responsible for the death. Funeral expenses are a type of damages that may be claimed in a survival action or a wrongful death claim. In general, funeral expenses are chargeable to an estate or to the individual who signs the funeral contract. However, the estate or the payer may bring a claim to recoup these expenses when the death occurs because of negligence or the intentional act of another party.
Funeral Expenses and Wrongful Death Lawsuits
When a wrongful death occurs, the family or personal representative is left to worry about paying for the funeral expenses. By bringing a survival action or a wrongful death claim, these expenses can be recouped from the person or party responsible for the death. At the time of making arrangements, expenses can be charged to the estate, which is then responsible for paying. Funeral costs are prioritized in Colorado law over most other estate debts. The alternative way to pay for the funeral at the outset is to have the surviving family assume responsibility for the costs. Then, the family can demand compensation for the expenses through a wrongful death action. Family members must initiate a legal action in order to assert their demand.
Types of Funeral Expenses That May Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Claim
Here are some types of expenses that may be recovered in a wrongful death claim:
- Death certificate
- Programs and memorial cards
- Other memorial items like obituaries, websites and the like
- Vehicle rental to attend a procession
- Funeral services
- Cemetery fees/Plot
- Gratuity for minister, clergy and musicians
- Rental of the funeral home or other location for service
The person claiming monetary relief may include any reasonable, final expense. With funerals costing thousands of dollars today, these costs are often significant. There is no specific dollar amount that limits the amount of expenses that can be claimed. The standard is just that expenses must be reasonable and must result from the wrongful death.
Survival Action or Wrongful Death Claim for Funeral Expenses?
In Colorado, either a survival action or a wrongful death claim may be appropriate to claim funeral expenses. Colorado law anticipates that the costs may initially fall on the shoulders of family members. For that reason, the law allows the party sustaining the loss to claim the expense in the appropriate legal action. Double recovery is not allowed. A party should be prepared to document the amount of the loss and the fact that they or the estate sustained the loss, as appropriate.
How To Claim Funeral Expenses in a Wrongful Death Claim
To claim funeral expenses in a wrongful death claim, it’s critical to document what precisely the costs are. That means you need to save receipts and contracts. Save any paperwork that may be relevant, even if you’re not sure how it might matter. Evaluate all of the different types of funeral expenses that may be included to ensure that you don’t miss any categories. When you bring your claim in Colorado, you may plead funeral expenses as general damages. Per McEntyre v. Jones, 263 P.2d 313 (1953) , pleading funeral expenses as special damages is not required. The McEntyre court said that where damages may be recovered, funeral expenses fall into the category of general damages and are covered. The McEntyre case involved the death of a 13-year-old who was hit while fishing on a bridge. The court allowed the victim’s family to recover funeral expenses through general pleading.
Other Recoverable Damages in Addition to Funeral Expenses
Remember, funeral expenses are only one type of damages that may be available in a wrongful death claim. Other economic and non-economic damages may include:
- Medical expenses sustained by the family
- Unearned income
- Loss of consortium
- Emotional anguish
- Pain and suffering
Usually, there is no cap on economic damages. However, Colorado law imposes caps on non-economic damages with special exceptions for exemplary damages and felonious killings.
Laws Regarding Funeral Expenses in Wrongful Death Cases
Remember that Colorado’s wrongful death laws are not the only laws that may be relevant to funeral expenses after a wrongful death. Some of the laws regarding funeral expenses in wrongful death cases are:
- C.R.S. 13-21-201  – Defines damages for death
- Public Assistance Act C.R.S. 26-2-129  – Providing reimbursement of funeral expenses for public assistance or medical assistance recipients
- C.R.S. 15-19-106  – Sets a priority order for who makes final decisions, beginning with the named personal representative and working through a priority list
Colorado Case Law on Funeral Expenses in Wrongful Death Cases
Case law in Colorado regarding funeral expenses in wrongful death cases generally affirm they are an allowable expense. For example, in Espinoza v. Garcia, 356 P.2d 891 (1960) , the court said that there is “no doubt that funeral expenses are recoverable as actions brought under the wrongful death statute.” The court also reiterated that wrongful death is not an exclusive remedy. In the Espinoza case, the victim died as a result of an accidental shooting. Kling v. Phayer, 274 P.2d 97 (1954)  is another case where the court affirmed funeral expenses based on a car accident that caused a wrongful death.
Attorney for Wrongful Death Funeral Expenses
Are you wondering how to pay for funeral expenses for a family member? Do you have questions about your rights and bringing a wrongful death claim? We’re here to help you through this difficult time. Contact our compassionate Colorado wrongful death attorneys to discuss your options.