Where Does the Money Go in a Wrongful Death Case?

Certain surviving family members and/or an accident victim’s estate can bring claims for compensation when an accident victim dies. We discuss the people who are authorized by Georgia law to bring a wrongful death claim in a separate article. In this article, we discuss how proceeds of a wrongful death claim are distributed.

Distribution of Wrongful Death Compensation

Georgia law makes an important distinction between the individuals who can bring a wrongful death claim and those who can receive compensation for a wrongful death. As a general rule, certain family members will be entitled to share wrongful death compensation even if they are not entitled to bring a wrongful death claim.

As we explain in Proper People to Bring a Wrongful Death Claim or Estate Claim in Georgia, Georgia law determines who is authorized to bring a wrongful death claim. For example, if the decedent was married, his or her spouse is usually the only person who can bring the claim.

Even if the victim’s children are not authorized to bring the claim, they will share in the recovery of wrongful death compensation. Section 51-4-2(d)(1) of the Georgia Code provides that a wrongful death recovery “shall be equally divided, share and share alike, among the surviving spouse and the children per capita, and the descendants of children shall take per stirpes.”

In plain English, the Georgia Code dictates the following distribution of wrongful death compensation:

  • If the victim’s spouse and no more than two children are still living, they each receive an equal share of the compensation. For example, if the victim has two children and a surviving spouse and the amount available for distribution is $600,000, the spouse and each child would receive $200,000.
  • If the victim’s spouse is not alive but the victim’s children are still living, each child receives an equal share of the compensation. If the amount available for distribution is $600,000 and the victim had two children who are still living, each child would receive $300,000.
  • If any of the victim’s children are no longer living, the share that would have been distributed to that child will be distributed equally among the child’s children and grandchildren. For example, if the victim has a surviving spouse, one living child and two grandchildren from a child who died, $600,000 would be divided as follows: $200,000 to the spouse, $200,000 to the surviving child, and $100,000 to each grandchild (each child of the child who died).

A special rule applies if the deceased victim had more than two children. Section 51-4-2(d)(2) of the Georgia Code provides that the surviving spouse shall never receive less than a third of the recovery. For example, if the amount available for distribution is $600,000 and the victim has a surviving spouse and three living children, the spouse would receive one-third (or $200,000), leaving $400,000 to be divided equally among the three children (or $133,333.33 each).

When a child is a minor and his or her share of the distribution is less than $15,000, the child’s surviving parent will manage the money on the child’s behalf. When the distribution exceeds $15,000, a financial guardian (also known as a guardian of the property) must be appointed to manage the funds until the child turns 18.

Wrongful Death Distributions When No Spouse or Children Survive

When no spouse or children are alive at the time of the victim’s death, the deceased accident victim’s surviving parents are entitled to wrongful death compensation. Section 19-7-1(c)(2) provides that the parents will share the compensation equally if they are still married or living together. If only one parent is living, that parent will receive all the compensation.

If both parents are still living but are divorced or living apart, section 17-7-1(c)(6) permits either parent to ask a judge to apportion the compensation “fairly” between the two parents after collecting evidence about the victim’s relationship with each parent. This request must be filed prior to a trial in the wrongful death case.

It is rarely wise to ask a judge to make that apportionment because it may lead to damaging evidence that the defendant’s insurance defense lawyer will use against the parents at the wrongful death trial. To avoid the risk that the jury will reduce compensation based on disturbing evidence that it hears about the parents, it is nearly always wise for parents to agree to share the compensation equally.

When no spouse, children, or parents survive the deceased victim, a wrongful death claim may be brought by the victim’s estate. In addition, the victim’s estate can bring its own claim to recover the victim’s medical and burial expenses, and for pain and suffering that the victim experienced prior to death. When the estate brings a claim, compensation is distributed according to the victim’s Will. If the victim died without a Will, compensation is distributed according to Georgia law in the same way that other property is distributed when the deceased had no Will.

If you have more questions about the distribution of compensation for a wrongful death claim in Georgia, contact Butler Law. Our experienced wrongful death lawyers can provide the help you need.