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Estate Planning for 9/11 Responders and Survivors: Why it Matters

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There are many reasons people might put off estate planning or drafting a will. However, for eligible 9/11 responders and survivors who has been diagnosed with a 9/11 cancer or other illness, it is critical to have a properly executed will in place. Importantly, by having a valid will, it can be much easier for their family to pursue a wrongful death claim with the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund in the tragic event that they pass away due to a 9/11-related health condition.

A Will Can Appoint a Personal Representative

A VCF wrongful death claim must be brought by the personal representative of the victim’s estate. If an eligible 9/11 responder or survivor passes without a will, a family member will have to file a Petition for Letters of Administration with the Surrogate’s Court to be appointed as a personal representative in order to pursue the claim. If there is a will in place, they must instead file a Petition for Probate and Letters Testamentary. Significantly, the VCF will not issue any award unless a personal representative has been appointed. 

In rare circumstances, the Special Master may appoint a personal representative. But first, an effort must be made to be appointed by the Surrogate’s Court. If the family member of a survivor or responder is unable to obtain an appointment from the court, they can provide a detailed written statement to the VCF, along with a request to be appointed by the Special Master. Critically, if the Special Master appoints a personal representative, it is only for the limited purpose of filing a VCF claim.   

By preparing a will, a 9/11 responder or survivor can designate a personal representative of their choosing. It can also help to alleviate some of the emotional and administrative burdens their family members may face when pursuing a VCF wrongful death claim.

You Can Choose How a Wrongful Death Award is Distributed in Your Estate Plan

Another reason to have an estate plan is to ensure any wrongful death award is distributed to the responder or survivor’s chosen beneficiaries. Critically, compensation for a deceased claim with the VCF will come in two parts: the personal injury award on behalf of the victim and the wrongful death award to compensate the family for their loss. Each category is considered separately.

Both economic and non-economic losses may be recovered by filing a VCF deceased claim. Specifically, economic loss consists of lost earnings and benefits, unreimbursed medical expenses, replacement services loss, and burial or memorial service expenses. Non-economic loss is meant to compensate the victim’s family for the harm they suffered due to losing a loved one — as well as the victim’s pain and suffering.

An award for non-economic loss provides financial compensation in the presumed amount of $250,000 for the victim, and $100,000 on account of each the spouse and dependents. Families may also be entitled to receive compensation on behalf of their loved one if the victim had filed a personal injury claim with the VCF before they died — regardless of whether their loved one passed from a 9/11-related health condition.    

Although the VCF issues payment to the personal representative of the estate, this is not necessarily the person who will be the recipient of the award. Rather, they are the individual who is responsible for distributing it. If the victim had a valid will or estate plan in place, its terms would govern how their estate — and any potential VCF wrongful death award — are distributed. Otherwise, applicable state law will determine the outcome.

When planning their estates, 9/11 responders and survivors with eligible 9/11-related health conditions should consider including a specific provision in their wills regarding the distribution of any VCF award their loved ones may recover on their behalf. Providing clear instruction can help ensure their loved ones are financially protected and their wishes are carried out.

Contact an Experienced 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Attorney

If you are a 9/11 responder or survivor, you may be entitled to compensation from the VCF. Additionally, your family may be eligible to recover for their economic and non-economic losses in the event that you pass away as a result of your 9/11-related health condition. However, filing a claim with the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund can be confusing and overwhelming. It’s best to have an experienced 9/11 VCF attorney on your side who can guide you through the process and help ensure you receive the maximum award you deserve.

The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund attorneys at The Dearie Law Firm, P.C. have represented claimants and their families in 9/11 VCF claims for over a decade. For a free consultation, contact us today.

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