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Can a deceased worker’s estate still receive workers’ comp benefits?

On Behalf of | Jun 19, 2015 | Workers' Compensation

When a worker is killed in an accident on the job, the person’s family faces an immense trauma. Not only do family members have to come to terms with the loss of their loved one, but they also have to deal with funeral costs, burial costs, possible medical bills for attempts at emergency treatment, the long-term loss of wages after the death of their breadwinner and other serious consequences.

These issues can be overwhelming for survivors, as every Algonquin worker compensation lawyer knows. Illinois law is designed to help them by offering death benefits to the estate of deceased workers.

Who is entitled to death benefits in Illinois?

According to Illinois law, people in all of the following categories may be paid long-term death benefits after a worker dies on the job:

  • The deceased worker’s spouse
  • The deceased worker’s children up to age 18
  • One or both parents who were totally dependent on the deceased worker
  • Other family members who were at least 50 percent dependent on the deceased worker at the time of the worker’s death

These additional family members may include siblings, stepchildren, nieces, nephews or other people who depended on the person’s wages.

Some beneficiaries are given precedence

Not all possible beneficiaries have equal status in the calculation of death benefits, as an Algonquin worker compensation lawyer is aware. The first priority, according to Illinois workers’ compensation legislation, is given to the spouse and the minor children of the deceased employee. If there is no spouse and no minor children, benefits may go to one or both dependent parents. If there are no dependent parents, benefits may be awarded to other family members who were partially or totally dependent on the worker’s wages.

Death benefits are always calculated in this order: spouse, children, dependent parents and other partially dependent relatives. In the case of partially dependent relatives, the amount of survivors’ benefits may be adjusted to fit the partial nature of the financial dependency.

Death benefits begin with burial costs

In the aftermath of an unexpected death, one of the greatest costs is the funeral and burial. Illinois death benefits include a lump sum paid to the beneficiaries to help with these expenses. For deaths occurring during or after February 2006, beneficiaries are entitled to a one-time payment of $8,000 for funeral costs.

Long-term compensation for lost wages

Illinois workers’ compensation benefits offer long-term recompense for lost earning power after an accidental death on the job. These benefits are offered weekly to the primary beneficiaries.

Long-term benefits consist of two-thirds of the gross weekly wage that the worker had earned during the year immediately before death. If this wage varied or fluctuated during the worker’s last year of life, the benefit is averaged from what was earned during those 52 weeks. If a worker earned an average of $1200 per week during the year preceding his or her death, the surviving family will be entitled to $800 per week in death benefits.

Survivors’ benefits have minimums and maximums

Survivors’ benefits after an accidental death, like all forms of workers’ compensation, are subject to official minimum and maximum levels. The death benefit in Illinois cannot fall below 50 percent of the average statewide gross wage among all workers at the time the injury occurred. It cannot rise above 133 percent of the average statewide wage. According to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, this average wage was $1,005.80 during January 2015. It fluctuates from year to year, generally rising by small amounts to keep up with inflation.

A deceased worker’s fully dependent family is currently unable under Illinois law to receive more than approximately $1,350 per week or less than $500 per week in death benefits. Partially dependent members of the family may receive an adjusted amount that is lower than $500 per week.

How long do death benefits last?

Death benefits are paid up to either a total amount of $500,000 or a duration of 25 years, whichever is greater. Given the current level of the average statewide wage in Illinois, survivors’ benefits will almost always reach a total of $500,000 before 25 years have elapsed. In that case, the family continues to receive payments until the 25-year period is up.

Can a surviving spouse become disqualified for death benefits?

When a surviving spouse remarries, death benefits may be discontinued. If there are still children under 18 who are eligible for benefits, the payments continue as long as the children remain eligible. If there are no eligible minor children, the surviving spouse is paid a final sum equivalent to two years’ worth of compensation. After this final payment, all death benefits end.

Are survivors’ benefits ever recalculated, or do they remain fixed?

Death benefits are set at a fixed rate according to the worker’s former wage. The dependents of a deceased worker may suffer if the cost of living goes up in the years following a death. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission has procedures in place to adjust benefits to keep up with the cost of living. A closed case cannot be reopened to change the amount of benefits, but starting two years after the initial award, the Commission may make cost-of-living adjustments in the form of separate monthly payments. These payments are made from the IWCC’s Rate Adjustment Fund. They are tied to annual changes in the average weekly wage.

Survivors’ benefits are often a complicated and stressful topic. Families who have lost a loved one in an accident on the job may wish to speak with an Algonquin worker compensation lawyer.