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Who Can Receive Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits?

Which family members can receive Texas Workers' Compensation Death Benefits?

When a worker is killed on the job, it creates tremendous hardship for their family. Brothers, sisters, parents, children, a spouse, cousins, neighbors, friends, and many other people suffer. However, only certain family members are eligible to receive Death Benefits from the employer's workers' compensation policy. In this article, Texas attorney Michael Grossman explains which family members are able to receive these benefits and under which circumstances.

Questions answered in this article:

  • Can a spouse collect workers' comp Death Benefits?
  • Are children eligible for workers' comp Death Benefits?
  • How are benefits divided among beneficiaries?
  • Can the parents of a worker who is killed on the job receive workers' comp benefits?
  • Can an ex-spouse receive workers' comp Death Benefits?

Who can receive workers' compensation Death Benefits?

The Texas Labor Code defines several classes of individuals who may receive Death Benefits when their kin dies on the job. These benefits are offered in lieu of filing a wrongful death suit. In fact, survivors are not allowed to sue at all, except in cases of gross negligence leading to a workers' death. Let's look to who can receive death benefits according to the Labor Code:

  1. The worker's spouse
  2. The worker's minor children or grandchildren (or children/grandchildren up to age 25 if enrolled in college full-time)
  3. The worker's financially dependent parents, stepparents, siblings and grandparents (if and only if there are no eligible claimants in the first two categories)
  4. The worker's parents (if and only if there are no eligible beneficiaries in the first three categories). However, non-financially dependent parents of a deceased worker receive a lesser amount than the other classification of dependent beneficiaries.

When is a spouse an eligible beneficiary?

Husbands and wives of deceased workers qualify as income beneficiaries so long as they were legally married at the time of the workplace accident. If the couple divorced prior to the accident, then all rights are cut off and the ex-spouse can receive nothing upon the workers' death. Furthermore, until they are legally divorced, the surviving spouse will qualify for a period of one year preceding the accident date. Section 408.182.f.3 states:

"Eligible spouse" means the surviving spouse of a deceased employee unless the spouse abandoned the employee for longer than the year immediately preceding the death without good cause, as determined by the division.

Therefore, if the couple was separated for less than one year, but not yet divorced at the time of the fatal accident, the surviving spouse would still be considered an entitled beneficiary.

If the deceased worker is married, then their spouse is eligible to receive 75 percent of their weekly income. Therefore, if your husband died and he, on average, made about $400 per week, then you would receive $300 per week in workers' compensation death benefits. As a spouse, you would be allowed to receive these payments until you married again. If you do not re-marry, then you would continue to receive these payments until you died.

Another important consideration is that Texas has "informal marriage," more commonly referred to as common law marriages. In Texas sharing a house, intentionally living together as a married couple, and letting other people know that you considered yourself married are all that it takes to have a common law marriages. These marriages are as legally valid as a marriage ceremony performed in a church or at a courthouse. Surviving spouses of common law marriages are also eligible for benefits.

When can a child or grandchild be an eligible beneficiary?

Children are also eligible to receive death benefits of a deceased worker. They also would receive the same 75 percent as described above, but their time constraints are different. A minor child would receive these payments until they reach the age of 18. However, if they continue their education and remain enrolled in school on a full-time basis, they can receive their parent's death benefits until age 25. If there is not a spouse and only surviving children, then the children would receive the full 75% of the weekly income payments. However, if the deceased worker leaves behind both a spouse and children, then there is a division of the payments.

Dependent relations may be beneficiaries:

Normally, siblings, grandparents and parents are not automatically eligible for death benefits. If and only if there is no eligible spouse and no eligible children or grandchildren, then these dependents are allowed to file a claim. These dependents would share equal shares of the Death Benefits. As Section 408.182.d says:

If there is no eligible spouse, no eligible child, and no eligible grandchild, the death benefits shall be paid in equal shares to surviving dependents of the deceased employee who are parents, stepparents, siblings, or grandparents of the deceased.

This is the only way siblings and grandparents may be compensated in the event of a worker's death. They must be dependents of the deceased in order to qualify, however.

Parents may be sole beneficiaries if the deceased leaves no other survivors.

If and only if the deceased leaves behind no eligible claimants, then the parents of the worker may file a claim. Read more about that situation here.

Unlike other beneficiaries, this class of claimant does not have to share the benefit, provided the parents are married and living in the same household, by virtue of there being no other claimants.

How is the money apportioned between multiple beneficiaries?

If a worker dies with both a spouse and children to care for, then both would be considered as qualifying beneficiaries and they would split the income payments. The spouse would take one half of the income payments and the children would take the other half. However, the allowed time for qualifying as a beneficiary remains the same. Once the child's time for receiving payments runs out, then the spouse would continue to receive the payments at the full 75 percent until they become disqualified or pass away. The reverse is true as well. If the spouse remarries, but the beneficiary children have not yet become adults, then the spouse's benefits would be severed and the children would continue to receive full payments.

Our attorneys know what laws apply to your workers' compensation case.

If your loved one has died while working on the job and you believe you are entitled to receive death benefits, it is important that you are fully informed about your rights and adequately represented. To learn more about workers' compensation death benefits and whether you may qualify, call our wrongful death law firm at (855) 326-0000.

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