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The role of estate administration in a wrongful death claim

By now, most Massachusetts residents are aware that the circumstances surrounding Joan Rivers' death may be suspect. For this reason, Rivers' daughter, Melissa Rivers, has retained counsel to file a medical malpractice claim against the party or parties believed responsible for her mother's death. The way that Joan Rivers structured her estate plan, estate administration should not have been necessary. However, now that a lawsuit regarding her death is being initiated, it is required.

Of course, the most important evidence in any medical malpractice case may be the medical records. Many people may not realize that the executor of the decedent's estate is the only one who can obtain those records. This means that even if it was not previously necessary to go through the probate process, applicable federal and state laws concerning the confidentiality of medical records require an executor to be appointed to represent the estate.

Therefore, details that were previously kept confidential could come to light as part of the public record. This makes filing a civil claim after the death of a loved one a difficult decision for some people such as Rivers' daughter. However, the need for answers and for allegedly negligent parties to face financial responsibility for their actions often overrides privacy concerns.

If a Massachusetts resident loses a loved one through the negligence of another, filing a petition in probate court is the first step. Even if estate administration could have been avoided, the desire to file a wrongful death claim -- whether based on some sort of accident or suspected medical malpractice -- makes it necessary. Seeking the advice and assistance of someone familiar with the probate process may alleviate some of the demands placed on an already grieving family.

Source: Forbes, "Why Did Joan Rivers Die? Melissa Rivers Seeks Answers", Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Oct. 29, 2014

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