What workers’ compensation death benefits are available for surviving family members?

If you’ve lost a loved one in a workplace accident, the tragedy can be made even more painful by the financial burden associated with losing the deceased’s income. However, Georgia law does allow for assistance with burial costs as well as income replacement.

What Types of Death Benefits Are Available?

When a worker dies in an on-the-job accident, workers’ compensation pays up to $7,500 for funeral and burial expenses. Income replacement benefits for dependents are also available. For a death that occurs on or after July 1, 2019, dependents can receive two-thirds of the deceased worker’s average weekly wage up to a maximum of $675 per week.

Who Qualifies as a Dependent?

The definition of dependent focuses on who is affected by the deceased person’s loss of income.

  • Surviving spouse. Legally married spouses qualify for benefits, although spouses who were separated for 90 days or more before the incident may have trouble collecting. When spouses are living apart, it’s presumed that they are no longer financially dependent.
  • Children. Children can receive benefits if they were born within the marriage, legally adopted, or are acknowledged children born out of wedlock. Posthumous children may also qualify.
  • Financially dependent stepchildren. Stepchildren can receive death benefits only if they were financially dependent upon the deceased worker. This means that a stepchild who lived with the deceased worker for the majority of the year could receive benefits, while a stepchild who only visited on the weekends would likely not be eligible.
  • Other financially dependent individuals. A person who can prove he or she was financially dependent upon the deceased worker for at least three months before the incident may be eligible for benefits if the deceased worker had no spouse or children. This exception to the standard beneficiaries is most often used for an elderly parent or a disabled sibling, but could also apply to non-related friends in some cases.

What Happens When There Are Multiple Beneficiaries?

When there are multiple beneficiaries, the full benefit payment is split between eligible parties.

If the deceased worker had both a spouse and child, the benefit is paid to the spouse for the benefit of both the spouse and child. If the deceased worker had no spouse and multiple children, the benefits are divided equally between the children and paid to the applicable legal guardian or guardians.

If the deceased worker had no spouse or children, but multiple other dependent individuals, the totally dependent person is considered a primary beneficiary. If no single individual was totally dependent upon the deceased worker for support, all other beneficiaries can receive partial payments according to their level of financial dependency.

How Long Do Benefits Last?

A widowed spouse with no children can receive up to 400 weeks of benefits or a maximum of $270,000. However, benefits will be terminated if he or she remarries or cohabitates in a marriage-like relationship.

For children, benefits will stop when they turn 18 if they are not enrolled in school. Benefits can continue until age 22 for a full-time student. Disabled children who are unable to become self-supporting can receive benefits for as long as they remain dependent.

Other individuals who were financially dependent upon the deceased person’s income can receive up to 400 weeks of benefits, but only if there is no surviving spouse or children. Benefits may be reduced by proportion of dependency, if the dependent person only received partial support for expenses from the deceased worker.

How Can I Protect My Right to Benefits?

If you are struggling to receive the appropriate workers’ compensation benefits following the death of a loved one, retaining legal representation is recommended. An attorney who is experienced in claims involving fatal accidents can advocate for your needs throughout the process. Since a workers’ compensation attorney will also handle all necessary paperwork and communication with the insurance company on your behalf, this will free you to focus on helping your family through the grieving process.

Rechtman & Spevak’s legal team has handled many workers’ compensation cases involving fatalities. Call today to schedule a free, no-obligation case review.