A settlement from a wrongful death action, to recover the value of the decedent's life, goes to the decedent's spouse and his or her children in equal shares. This equal parts distribution of the settlement is only provided if the surviving spouse receives at least one-third of the whole settlement.

Wrongful Death Claims in Georgia

In Georgia, two sets of claims can arise out of the wrongful death of a decedent, caused by the criminal or negligent act of another person or caused by a defectively manufactured product:

  • A traditional wrongful death claim to recover for the value of the decedent's life
  • A claim filed by the estate to recover financial losses

Settlement of a Traditional Wrongful Death Action in Georgia

Who is responsible for filing a wrongful death claim?

  • If the criminal or negligent conduct of another causes a death, the decedent's surviving spouse can bring a traditional wrongful death action.
  • If the decedent has no surviving spouse, the decedent's children can file the claim.
  • If the decedent has no surviving spouse or children, the decedent's parents can file the action.

Recovery in a Traditional Wrongful Death Action in Georgia

A traditional wrongful death claim seeks to recover the full value of the decedent's life. The recovery includes the following:

  • Lost wages: How much would the decedent have earned if he or she had lived? Factors used to determine the amount include the decedent's age and what type of work the decedent performed before his or her death.
  • Lost companionship: Family members can recover for the loss of companionship with the decedent.

How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Distributed?

As with other types of claims, most wrongful death claims are settled before they go to trial. Who gets the settlement funds? The surviving spouse and the children split the funds equally, but the spouse must receive at least one-third. If a child does not survive the decedent, that child's children receive that child's share.

Special rules apply for minor children:

  • If the amount of the settlement going to the child is less than $15,000, the child's natural guardian holds the funds for the child.
  • If the amount of the settlement going to the child is $15,000 or more, the guardian of the child's property holds the funds for the child.

The settlement recovery is not subject to the debts of the decedent.

Settlement of the Estate's Wrongful Death Claim in Georgia

Who is the personal representative?

  • The personal representative is the executor designated in the decedent's will.
  • The personal representative of the decedent's estate can work with an attorney to file a claim for financial losses.
  • If the decedent has no will, the personal representative will be the administrator whom the court appoints to handle the decedent's estate.

Recovery in an Estate's Wrongful Death Claim in Georgia

What can the personal representative recover in a wrongful death claim?

  • The medical expenses of the decedent related to the accident resulting in the decedent's death
  • Burial and funeral expenses
  • Other out-of-pocket expenses related to the accident
  • The decedent's pain and suffering

Funds Recovered by the Personal Representative

Funds from the recovery by the personal representative go into the decedent's estate:

  • The personal representative—the executor, if there is a will or the administrator, if no will exists—must administer the estate before the distribution of any funds.
  • The personal representative will gather the assets of the decedent, give notice to any creditors, and pay the decedent's debts before any distribution of funds from the estate.

Distribution of Funds from the Estate

After the payment of the decedent's debts, any funds, including any funds recovered in the personal representative's wrongful death claim, are distributed as provided in the decedent's will. If there is no will, the funds pass in the following manner under Georgia's laws of intestacy:

  • To the surviving spouse, if there are no children
  • To the surviving spouse and the children: The spouse gets at least one-third of the property of the estate. If any child dies before the decedent, the decedent’s grandchildren receive that child's share.
  • To the decedent's parents
  • To the decedent's siblings
  • To the decedent's grandparents
  • To the decedent's uncles and aunts
  • To more remote relatives

If you would like more information about how wrongful death settlements are paid out, call us at 404-842-7838 for a free consultation.