It doesn’t happen often, but when the parent responsible for paying child support dies, it is imperative to see what remedies are available to continue the support for the children. Here are three legal rocks to look under when evaluating such a scenario:
1. Check the Decree or Order requiring that parent to pay child support. It could very well state in a child support order that the obligation to pay DOES NOT CEASE at the death of that parent, but it lives on as an obligation of the deceased parent’s estate. This would likely take the filing of a claim against the decedent’s probate estate, and the administrator will likely approve paying the claim until the children are no longer under the child support requirements. Most of the time, this can all be handled in the Probate Court where the deceased parent’s probate Estate if opened.
2. See if Life Insurance was required and maintained by the obligated parent. Some orders state that one or both parents shall obtain and maintain life insurance for the benefit of the children or for satisfying the obligation owed for child support. If this is the case, then ask for information on that policy and submit the claim to the life insurance company. If everything was set up correctly after the decree, you will probably already have the policy number and information at hand. The only item you will likely need to present is the death certificate of the other parent.
3. Determine whether or not your child is an heir or beneficiary of the deceased parent’s estate. If there was no will, then seek to secure your child’s rights as soon as possible. Even if the decree does not speak to the other parent’s estate being obligated, it is very possible that your child either takes part of the estate under a will or the laws of intestacy. This means that your child would stand to inherit directly from the estate without having to make a claim for child support through the probate estate.
Make sure to consult with your family lawyer should any of these scenarios occur. You certainly want to get your claim on record as soon as possible, especially should the estate have other claims against it. A child support claim will likely be given some priority in the Probate arena, but nothing is guaranteed. You don’t want to wait around only to find out that the estate has already been distributed.