Every state's workers' compensation program has at least some provision for dependent benefits. However, a state-by-state comparison demonstrates great variances in amount. For example, the family of a worker killed in an accident in Iowa has the potential of receiving up to $1133 per week in benefits, while the maximum amount for survivors of a worker in Idaho is only $325 per week. Actual benefits received, generally based on the amount of a worker's earnings, do not vary as much as the law may indicate. Nevertheless, the difference between state laws is dramatic.
Eligibility for dependent benefits
Generally, dependent benefits are provided to the legal spouse of a disabled or injured worker. Common law spouses who meet the state's definition may be eligible in those states that recognize common law marriage. A legally separated spouse is unlikely to be eligible, unless receiving alimony or spousal support under a valid court order.
In those localities that recognize same-sex marriage or civil-commitment, a same-sex spouse / partner of a worker may receive dependent benefits under their state's workers' compensation program. Under the federal workers' compensation programs, however, payments are barred because of the federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
Minor children will typically receive benefits in an amount, in addition to the spouse's award, until the age of 19. Some states extend benefits to disabled children or those minor children pursuing higher education.
How death benefits are calculated
Generally, the calculation of benefits is as a percentage of a worker's weekly wages, with statutory limits on both the minimum and maximum amounts. Benefits are usually paid as long as a spouse survives. Some states provide benefits for a minimum amount of time, and in the event a surviving spouse dies prior to the end of that period the estate may receive the remaining benefits.
Eligibility for death benefits
Eligibility usually arises upon the death of a worker that is caused by a work-related injury or illness, whether death occurs immediately or after a period of disability.
Most states impose a time limit in which to apply for dependent benefits, usually ranging from 6 months to a year. However, in some cases a dependent is able to show good cause for the failure to apply within these time limits, in which case the responsible agency may still approve the application.
Nearly every state provides a lump sum payment toward the funeral expenses of a deceased worker. The amount of this payment varies widely by state.
Transporting the body
Some states provide an amount to defray some of the expenses necessary for transportation of the deceased worker's body for burial if the worker was killed at a distance from home.
Claim for dependent benefits generally independent of worker's claim for benefits
In most states, a claim for dependent benefits stands alone and is not tied to the worker's original claim. Thus, in a case where a worker has a made a claim for disability benefits which has been fully or partially denied or barred, and the worker ultimately dies from the injury, a dependent would generally still have the right to file a claim for benefits.
One purpose of workers' compensation programs is to provide support to relatives of workers killed in work-related accidents. States recognize this as a significant purpose of the program, and continue to provide, albeit to a varied extent, support to those survivors.
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