Elements of Defamation
The legal tort of defamation involves a false statement about a person that is negligently or willfully communicated to a third party and results in harm to the person's reputation. It is slander if the statement is oral, libel if it is written. The statement must actually injure the reputation of the person, not just constitute an insult. Truth is an absolute defense to the charge of slander.
Dead Cannot Be Defamed
"You can't defame the dead" is an often-repeated legal chestnut that restates the general rule that only the living can sue for damages to their reputation. The continued force of this rule explains why many defamatory "tell-all" biographies appear after a famous figure has died. Georgia's law is typical -- it recognizes no cause of action for slander of a dead person, but allows the person's family to continue to prosecute a legal action for slander that the deceased started before he died.