What Is a Wrongful Death Beneficiary?

A wrongful death beneficiary is someone, usually an accident victim’s surviving loved one, who can recover compensation in a wrongful death claim. Wrongful death settlements compensate surviving family members for their losses when their loved one died in an accident due to negligence, recklessness, or criminal behavior.

Who Can Be A Wrongful Death Beneficiary?

Who can be a beneficiary depends on who died in the accident as well as who remains. But, in general terms, we can say that wrongful death beneficiaries are the next of kin.

Georgia established the following hierarchy into law to determine priority:

  • Spouse: Spouses are the first party who can benefit from a wrongful death claim.
  • Children: If there was no surviving spouse at the time of the death, the right to file a wrongful death claim and collect damages falls to the children.
  • Parents: Parents can file a wrongful death claim for the loss of their unmarried, minor children.
  • The estate: If no immediate family members survived the wrongful death victim, the estate holds the right to file a wrongful death claim. From there, compensation is distributed to the next of kin as determined by probate law.

Per Georgia’s wrongful death law, O.C.G.A. § 51-4-2, the beneficiaries of a wrongful death claim must divide the settlement evenly between each person (e.g., if the wrongful death settlement totaled $60,000 for a spouse and two children, each would receive $20,000).  

Can the Wrongful Death Beneficiary Change?

In most cases, no, the beneficiary cannot change. However, the one instance in which the beneficiary can change is if the family member at the top of the hierarchy dies.

For example, if a husband and wife were involved in a serious accident, the wife could file a wrongful death claim if the husband died in the accident. If the wife, who also suffered injuries in the accident, succumbs to those injuries, the claim “shall survive to the child or children of the decedent.” The same applies if a child dies while filing a wrongful death claim. The claim will transfer to the next surviving child.

What Damages Can You Collect in a Wrongful Death Claim?

There are a variety of damages you can collect as a wrongful death beneficiary. Depending on your loved one’s circumstances, you might be entitled to any of the following:

  • Medical bills: Wrongful death beneficiaries should receive compensation for everything from ambulances to the cost of the loved one’s hospital stay and specialists.
  • Funeral costs: Funerals are expensive ceremonies; your wrongful death claim should cover these costs.
  • Loss of income: These damages depend on the victim’s current salary, earning potential, inflation, and life expectancy (e.g., a wrongful death claim for a 50 year old who makes $80,000 a year will have a higher income value than a 60 year old who makes $60,000). Your settlement should include this when awarded.
  • Loss of benefits: In addition to loss of income, the victim’s family may have expected additional benefits from their lost loved one. Your settlement should compensate you for expected Social Security income, health care, pensions, 401(k)s, and more.
  • Child care: If the victim had children, the settlement should include the expected cost of raising the child until age 18.
  • Pain and suffering: You are entitled to compensation for your loved one’s pain and suffering between the time of the accident and death.
  • Noneconomic losses: Arguably the most difficult part of a loved one’s death is the emotional impact. You deserve compensation for your emotional losses, mental anguish, loss of consortium, and other damages.

Call an Atlanta Wrongful Death Lawyer

Losing someone close to you is never easy. Especially when it is a sudden loss due to another party’s negligent behavior. There are no easy answers and no amount of compensation can replace your loss.

But you can — and should — hold the negligent party liable for your losses. Let us shoulder the burden for a while. We can handle your claim, giving you the opportunity to grieve and spend time with your family. Call the wrongful death team at S. Burke Law for a free consultation whenever you are ready for our help: 404-842-7838.