Transferring Rewards to a Heir or Executor: Where Whistleblower Law Meets Trusts & Estates
Life does not wait for you to collect in a whistleblower case, and unfortunately False Claims Act cases can take years to develop.
Sometimes, Plaintiff-Relators die in the meantime. I’m sorry to say it has happened twice on my watch that a client has passed away prior to a successful collection by the government on their case. In both cases, it was really nobody’s fault. The investigations were conducted along a normal time-frame and the government mostly did its job. Both Relators were sick, but pursued the case anyway, and as lawyers, we took some measure of solace in being able to provide a collection to their family.
This difficult topic came to mind because my firm just hired a new partner to run a Trusts and Estates practice group. We all look forward to working with Kerri Castellini and wish her the best. It is worth remembering that having an estate planning place can touch even the most obscure areas of one’s life.
To be sure, it is possible to substitute the Executor, (termed Personal Representative in both Maryland and the District of Columbia) of the Estate in the position of the Relator when necessary in a False Claims Act filing. Courts have held that the False Claims Act is generally remedial in nature, so the action survives the death of a party. Following this logic, Courts are generally willing to substitute a duly appointed executor of the estate to take the place of the Relator in a case when the government has made a collection.
It is not a legal argument per se, but I think that Courts also understandably want to see a family receive the money that a righteous whistleblower has earned through an action that successfully recovered money for the government.
It is, of course, a lot more work to establish the credentials of that person in the absence of a will. It is possible to do, but like everything else that gets complicated when someone dies without a will, it can delay the potential collection for the person who, presumably, the Relator most wanted to receive the reward. As it is, even with a will, motions have to be filed and the court must accept a new Relator.
Most people facing the loss of a spouse have a lot to deal with and are in a precarious financial situation, to say the least. Nobody likes to think about any of this at any time. However, having a will even makes dealing with obtaining a rightful collection under whistleblower law easier and therefore quicker when the time comes. Especially following the death of a loved one, obtaining that reward in a timely manner can make a very big difference in the lives of the family.
It’s worth considering these concerns when entering into a case that could take years to resolve.