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Georgia’s Wrongful Death Claim vs. Estate Claim

By Butler Prather LLP on September 5, 2022

When a person loses their life due to the negligence of another individual or entity in Georgia, there may be various ways for both the family members and the estate of the deceased to recover compensation. This includes both a wrongful death claim as well as an estate claim. Even though individuals often confuse these two as being one and the same, there are differences between these two types of claims that you need to be aware of.

Understanding a Wrongful Death Claim in Georgia

Wrongful death claims arise anytime the death of an individual is caused by the negligent, careless, or intentional actions of another individual, company, or entity.

In Georgia, family members of the victim have the right to file a wrongful death claim in civil court. Typically, the first person with the right to file is the spouse of the deceased if the victim has a living spouse. If there is no spouse, the children of the victim will have the right to file the claim, and if there are no children, the parents of the victim will be able to file the claim in court. In the event the person had no relative legally allowed to file the wrongful death claim, the person in charge of the victim’s estate can file the claim.

Any compensation secured as a result of a successful wrongful death claim will go to the person who files the claim. Wrongful death claims allow compensation for the “full value of the life of the decedent.” This includes both economic and non-economic losses:

  • The income the individual would have earned throughout their lifetime
  • The value of contributions the individual would have made to the household
  • The overall value of the life lost, including more intangible aspects such as companionship, parenting time, love, guidance, and more

Understanding an Estate Claim in Georgia

Estate claims in Georgia arise in much the same way that wrongful death claims do. In fact, these claims are typically filed together for the same incident. However, the goal of an estate claim is different. An estate claim seeks to recover losses involved directly with the victim’s death.

The “estate” of an individual refers to the value of everything that they own and possess as well as any debts they may owe others. However, the estate is not necessarily controlled by other family members, although the representative of the estate is often a surviving family member. The person who brings an estate claim can be the same person who files a wrongful death claim. For example, if there is a surviving spouse, then the spouse may have been named as the representative of the estate. Under Georgia law, the spouse has the right to file the wrongful death claim, and since they are the representative of the estate, they would also file the estate claim.

However, the representative of the estate does not have to be a family member, so whoever does represent the estate will be responsible for filing the estate claim in civil court. If there was not a personal representative named in a will, then the court can appoint a person to serve as the state representative.

The main difference between a wrongful death and an estate claim in Georgia revolves around the type of compensation sought. The first goal of the estate claim is to recover losses involved with the death of the deceased, which can include medical expenses as well as funeral and burial costs. Recovering these costs through an estate claim prevents them from coming out of the victim’s estate, which could prevent the estate from having to sell off possessions to pay debts.

Additionally, an estate claim can seek compensation for any pain and suffering the deceased experienced before they died. In many cases, individuals do not lose their lives right away after an initial incident occurs. Regardless of the time frame between when the incident occurred and when the death occurred, estate claims can seek pain and suffering losses for this time frame.

Lastly, an estate claim can seek punitive damages, though these are typically only awarded in cases where the actions of the wrongdoer were extremely negligent or intentional. Punitive damages are sent to penalize and punish, as well as deter others from acting in the same way.

Call our Atlanta wrongful death lawyers today.

Posted in: Wrongful Death

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