Sometimes when we settle cases, Court approval is required. In Missouri this occurs in two situations: Wrongful Death and a Minor Settlement. In Illinois it occurs if a settlement is made with only one defendant (in my next newsletter/email). We have had a lot of these Court hearings lately. Under RSMo. 537.080 and .095, the Court must approve a wrongful death settlement. Typically, a Motion or Application for Approval of Wrongful Death settlement is filed with the Court. The lawyer and client appear in Court and the lead plaintiff takes the stand to testify to approve the settlement. To approve a wrongful death settlement, both the Motion should say, and the lawyer should have their client testify to, the following: That Plaintiff is ___ relation to the deceased; That Plaintiff maintain a claim or lawsuit for wrongful death because ___; That Plaintiff participated in and litigated the case; That they negotiated a settlement; That they believe the Court approval of the settlement would be in the best interest of the case and parties; Identity of all the parties that are entitled to distribution from the settlement under 537.080.1(1); That notice of the hearing went to everyone with an interest in the settlement; That Plaintiff employed Burger law to represent them who pursued the case and had a contingency fee contract; That they understand that if they settle the case and if the Court approves the settlement, that the case will be completely closed and no further relief may be had from the released parties; That if the Court approves the settlement, plaintiff will not be able to have jury trial in the case and that a jury could have awarded more or less than the settlement amount; They are requesting the Court approve the settlement; and That the court enter an order approving the settlement, payment of attorneys’ fees and expenses and the distribution of the settlement to beneficiaries. Then, typically the Court will approve the settlement if the terms are fair and just. Sometimes, cases are confidential - in that case you provide the Court with a copy of a document showing settlement, attorneys fees, expense, and distribution plan directly, but do not put it in the Motion. If a case is not confidential, you put those numbers in your Motion for Approval. The second situation for Court approval that is necessary is in a minor settlement. Typically, by Court order (and I require with my clients) that the money be put in a restricted account, a conservatorship, or structured settlement. This way all the money goes to the benefit, health, education or welfare of the minor. We have many situations like this. To approve a minor settlement, there needs to be a Motion for Approval and an Order stating the following: The age and the date of birth of the minor; Identify who is the “next friend” of the minor; There should already be a Motion for Appointment of Next Friend filed with the Court and if not, that needs to be done with the Motion for Approval; Sometimes, it is necessary to not use the minor full and name and ask the Court to only use the minor initials or “Jane Doe.” This is done by a simple Motion moving the Court to use only the initials for reason that the lawsuit includes personal information, settlement funds and other identifying information of a minor; That Plaintiff participated in and litigated the case; That they negotiated a settlement; That they believe the Court approval of the settlement would be in the best interest of the case and minor; Shortly describe the incident and why the Motion is being prepared; State that the settlement of the money and specific sums would be in the best interest of the minor; Note that the defendant has offered to settlement a that amount and that Plaintiff wishes to accept the settlement; That the next friend acknowledgement receipt of settlement money they will use the settlement money for the sole benefit for the minor; That Plaintiff employed Burger law to represent them who pursued the case and had a contingency fee contract; That they understand that if they settle the case and if the Court approves the settlement, that the case will be completely closed and no further relief may be had from the released parties; That if the Court approves the settlement, plaintiff will not be able to have jury trial in the case and that a jury could have awarded more or less than the settlement amount; They are requesting the Court approve the settlement; and That a court order be issued approving the settlement and directing where the funds go. Then the question becomes where do you put the money from the settlement for the minor. You can put the money into a restricted account with a bank pursuant to the statute. You can also open a conservatorship in probate court. These forms for conservatorship in St. Louis City or County can be found here and here. With both conservatorship and restricted accounts, you will have to do yearly reports and accounting to the Court to show what is happening with the accounts for the minor. You can also place the money in a structured settlement. This is an annuity where an insurance company or other investment company holds the money and pays the money out over time. The advantage of this is that you get tax benefits and this is a good way to safeguard the money. Wait until the Minor is over the age of 18 to pay them. I usually require additional time to get the money out - I do not know many 18-year-olds that handle money smartly. Plan for money to pay for college and then wait for a period of time before the rest of the settlement funds are provided to the recipient. The tax advantage is that personal injury settlements are not taxable and if you put them in a structure the interest earned on the money is not taxable either. So, the interest on the money for a certain amount of time gets paid eventually in the structure and no tax is paid on that. If you have any other questions about how to get a wrongful death or minor settlement approved, please give our office a call or email for more information.