Sometimes a workplace accident or occupational disease results in the tragic death of an employee. When this happens, their family members may be able to receive death benefits, which are sometimes known as survivor’s benefits. They also may be able to receive reimbursement for funeral costs, up to a maximum amount provided by state law. Additional benefits will cover the cost of any medical treatment that the worker received before their death, as long as it was necessary and reasonable.
You will need to act promptly in filing a claim. A family usually will need to seek death benefits within one or two years after the worker’s death, or after the last payment of disability benefits that the worker received.
Generally, you will need to have been a family member of the deceased worker. You also must have lived in the worker’s household and depended on them financially. Depending on the state, you may be able to get some benefits even if you did not totally depend on the worker. A spouse and minor children usually will be considered dependents automatically, although sometimes a spouse will not be considered a dependent if they have an independent income over a certain amount.
Adult children with disabilities also probably will be eligible if their disabilities prevent them from supporting themselves. Adult children under 25 who are pursuing education or vocational training sometimes may be eligible as well. Other types of family members may be eligible, but determining whether they can receive benefits will require a more thorough analysis of the situation.
The Work-Related Requirement
The usual rule is that death benefits are available only when the fatal injury or illness resulted from workplace conditions. However, this does not necessarily mean that a sudden workplace accident must have killed an otherwise healthy employee on the spot. You may be able to get death benefits if a job-related injury or illness aggravated the underlying condition that resulted in the worker’s death, even if the underlying condition did not arise in the workplace. You also may be able to receive benefits if your loved one dies some time after the workplace accident that caused their death. Some states place a limit on the time that can pass between the accident and the death.
Some states provide a lump sum payment of death benefits, while other states provide installment payments. Lump sum payments usually consist of two-thirds of the deceased worker’s wages during a certain period, subject to maximum and minimum amounts set by state law. Installment payments also are calculated according to the worker’s earnings and usually consist of two-thirds of their average weekly wage, subject to a fixed maximum and minimum. If your state uses installment payments, you still may be able to agree to a lump sum settlement.
The total amount of death benefits often remains the same, regardless of how many children and other dependents may be attached to a deceased worker. This means that each dependent will receive a proportionally smaller share. However, some states provide for increases in proportion to the number of dependents.
Children often can receive benefits until they turn 18 or until they complete a certain level of education or training. Spouses may be able to receive benefits permanently, or until they remarry. Certain states provide limits for how long death benefits can last, though, which do not depend on the age of the children or the marital status of the spouse.