Wrongful Death: Beneficiaries and Personal Representatives in Oregon and Washington

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The sudden death of someone you cared for due to another's wrongful actions can be particularly devastating. You may not have had time to say goodbye to your loved one or to tell them that you loved them one last time. While you are grieving your loss, you may also find yourself saddled with financial obligations that you never expected to crop up.

No amount of money can compensate for the loss you have suffered, and the relationship which you built with your loved one can't be replaced by a check, no matter how large. Compensation can ease some of the financial burdens which you might be experiencing after your loved one's death, however, and a wrongful death action may be able to relieve some of the financial stress that you are suffering as a result of your loved one's loss.

Who Can Benefit from a Wrongful Death Action?

Those who can recover damages from a wrongful death action are called "beneficiaries." Determining who is eligible to be a beneficiary must be done on a state-by-state basis, as each state has different rules on who may recover from a wrongful death action. The following provides an overview of who may recover damages from a wrongful death action in Washington and Oregon.


Washington statute RCW 4.20.020 provides that the following individuals may recover in a wrongful death action for the loss of a loved one:

  • Husband or wife of the deceased
  • Registered domestic partner of the deceased
  • Children of the deceased
  • Stepchildren of the deceased

The statute further states that if the deceased individual does not have a husband, wife, domestic partner, or any children or stepchildren, the deceased person's parents or siblings can maintain an action for wrongful death if the parents or siblings relied on the deceased individual for support.


Oregon statute ORS 30.020 states that the following individuals can recover from a wrongful death action:

  • Spouse of the deceased
  • Children of the deceased
  • Parents of the deceased
  • Stepchild or the deceased
  • Stepparent of the deceased

In addition to the above-listed beneficiaries, a person may also maintain an action for wrongful death in Oregon if the person would be entitled to inherit the deceased individual's property if the loved one died "intestate", or without a will.

personal injury attorney who has experience in wrongful death actions will be able to determine whether you would be able to recover from your loved one via intestacy. If you would be eligible to recover, then you may be eligible to bring a wrongful death action against the person who caused your loved one's death even if you are not a spouse, child, parent, or step-relative of your loved one.

Personal Representatives: Who Are They and What is Their Role in a Wrongful Death Action?

When a person dies, they may leave behind financial assets or debts, real property, and personal items which belonged to them. This accumulation of everything that a deceased person has left behind is commonly referred to as an "estate". Because an estate cannot be managed by the deceased person, an individual must be identified who can distribute property to those who are rightfully entitled to it, and take care of any debts and other obligations that the deceased individual might have owed. The person who is put in charge of handling the estate is called a "personal representative".

In a perfect world, a personal representative is appointed by a decedent before he or she passes and is named in the deceased person's will. If a person dies without a will, however, or the person appointed as a personal representative is either unable or unwilling to carry out this role, a court-appointed personal representative may be named to oversee the distribution of the estate.

What does this all have to do with a wrongful death action, then? Generally, the personal representative of your loved one's estate will be responsible for bringing a wrongful death action for the death of your loved one. This means that you, if you are determined to be a beneficiary, will not bring a wrongful death action on your own; rather, the personal representative of your loved one's estate will bring the action on your behalf and on behalf of anyone else who is determined to be a beneficiary.

Time is Limited--Don't Wait Until it is Too Late

If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, a lawsuit may be the furthest thing from your mind. While it is natural to want to put off such a daunting task, it is important to speak with a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. Every state has a "statute of limitations" that puts a time limit on the filing of a lawsuit.

In both Washington and Oregon, a person has three years in which to bring a wrongful death action after the death of a loved one. While this may seem like a great deal of time, the work that goes into preparing a wrongful death case prior to filing a lawsuit can be significant. Evidence must be gathered, medical records must be obtained, and a solid foundation for the case must be built in order to give you the best chance at a successful outcome. Don't jeopardize the case by waiting until it is too late to bring a wrongful death action. Speak to an attorney as soon as possible.

Considering a Wrongful Death Action for the Loss of Your Loved One? Get the Help You Need Today

If you are suffering the loss of someone you loved due to the wrongful actions of another person or an entity, your grief may be compounded by the financial toll of the loss of your loved one's income upon which you relied. While no amount of money can bring back the joy and companionship that your loved one provided, a wrongful death action may be able to relieve some of the financial hardship that you are experiencing by compensating you for the lost income upon which you relied. To speak with one of our attorneys about your case and take the next step toward receiving just compensation, fill out an online case evaluation form or call (360) 695-4244 today.

Experienced Attorneys

The attorneys at Schauermann Thayer handle personal injury, wrongful death, and insurance actions for clients throughout the Southwest Washington and Portland, Oregon area.


Schauermann Thayer is committed to answering your questions and addressing your concerns about potential personal injury and wrongful death cases in Washington and Oregon.

We offer free consultations and we’ll gladly discuss your circumstances with you at your convenience.