Can You Sue a Deceased Person’s Estate?

If someone has wronged you, injured you, or owes you money, you can take legal action against them. This is a simple and well-documented process, but what if the person passes away before the lawsuit? Can you sue a dead person? 

Yes, you can sue a dead person’s estate. You can file a lawsuit against the deceased’s estate for pain and suffering, but it’s more complex than suing a living person. Their assets need to go through probate, and you must file a claim within the rules of probate law.

This guide will help you determine whether or not you can sue the estate of a deceased person and receive the money or compensation you deserve. Even though they’ve passed on, you still have claims you can make, and it is legal for you to receive any compensation they owe you. To do this, you can sue a dead person’s estate. 

Always consult with a lawyer before you begin any legal processes. This guide is just a general overview of suing someone posthumously and will not account for every situation. 

What Is an Estate?

An estate is a legal term for the belongings of the deceased person as they go through probate court. A qualified attorney or beneficiary will run the estate. 

If a person is deceased, it’s impossible to sue them directly. However, probate courts can use their assets and estate to provide compensation to victims or creditors after death. This process is complicated, but it is possible to sue a deceased person through their estate. 

What Is Probate and How Does It Work?

How probate works differs depending on the size of the estate and whether or not the deceased has a will, but the basics are very similar. Probate court deals with the deceased person’s creditors and taxes. They read the will and divide the estate according to the person’s wishes and the law. 

It is imperative to file a claim against the dead person’s estate while the case is still in probate court to receive compensation for a lawsuit. Otherwise, the estate will go to whoever is in the will and you will have to start a lengthy court process if you wish to try and receive compensation, which may not happen. 

This representative, usually a surviving child or spouse of the deceased, must send a notice of death to any creditors or individuals with a legal claim. You should receive this within four months after their death. 

Intestate Claims vs. Probate Claims 

Can you sue an estate after probate? The answer is slightly more complicated. If the deceased has a will, the probate court will address the claims. However, a person without a will leaves their estate intestate, and their claims become intestate.

Usually, this means that the court will appoint a power of attorney and deal with creditors that way. Going to probate without a will is more complicated for the beneficiaries but opens up more opportunities for lawsuits. 

What Are the Steps To Suing a Dead Person’s Estate?

As long as you know how to navigate probate court and keep the filing deadlines in mind, suing an estate is not extremely difficult. With an experienced attorney to help with unexpected issues, you can receive compensation even after the person has passed. Here are the steps. 

Receive a Notice of Death

The first thing you’ll need is a notice of death. However, if you learn of the defendant’s death a different way, you can look up the probate court records and file a claim before the deadline. 

Make a Claim

Once you’ve received the death notice, you have a certain amount of time to submit your claim. You can submit it to the probate court and serve the estate representative. This claim will take you to court. 

Go to Court

After you’ve served your claim and submitted it to court, there’s nothing left to do but wait. You might have to go to court and testify if it’s a personal injury case, but the estate will settle most cases themselves. You should receive your compensation and be able to move on. 

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Claims by Beneficiaries

The first claims that a probate court will attend to are claims of beneficiaries. Beneficiaries can sue the estate or the executor if they think any part of the inheritance distribution process is unreasonable or excessive. 

Can you sue a beneficiary? This is a difficult thing to do, but it is possible with a good probate lawyer. If you can make your case and have the probate court acknowledge it, you can sue a beneficiary. 

Can an Executor Override a Beneficiary?

An executor can override a beneficiary if the beneficiary’s claim is in direct contest with the will. An executor’s role is to stand in for the deceased, and the deceased’s will is paramount. 

Claims By Creditors

Creditors are the most common claimants in an estate. Once a person dies, any creditors can make claims and collect what is due to them. However, they have a specific deadline by which to complete this claim. At the longest, this deadline can be a year. 

Claims by Estates

Can an estate sue someone? Yes. Estates can sue other estates or individuals as long as it’s clear that the person was dead before the suit began. In an ongoing lawsuit, the estate must change or forfeit any needs specific to a living individual. 

How Long Do You Have To File an Estate Claim?

How long do you have to sue an estate? Once you receive the notice of death, you have time to file your claim, but only within a certain period. This varies depending on state law but is usually between one and three months.

However, you have a little longer if you don’t receive a notice of death. Missing a deadline because the family neglected to send out death notices means that you are eligible for a late claim and have up to a year to submit your lawsuit. You can check probate court for due dates as well. 

Do I Need a Lawyer to Sue a Deceased Person’s Estate? 

Although it is possible to sue a deceased person’s estate, it can be complicated. To ensure that you have a winnable case and do all the proper steps in time, you should hire a trustworthy and experienced probate lawyer to help you get the compensation you deserve. 

Picture of JARROD HAYS


Jarrod Hays is the founder of Skyview Law. He is licensed to practice law in Washington State and the Western District of Washington State Federal Court.

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