When a worker passes away from a work-related injury or illness, his or her surviving dependents are eligible to receive benefits. Called “death benefits” or “dependency benefits,” these sums are available to the worker’s spouse, children, or other dependents who relied on the worker for financial support. (To learn about compensation for injured workers, see our article on Colorado workers’ comp benefits.)
A worker’s dependents—those who relied on the worker for financial support—are eligible to receive death benefits. The following family members are generally considered to be wholly dependent:
children under 18—or, under 21 if they are full-time students.
If there is no spouse or dependent child, other family members—such as parents, grandchildren, or adult children—can qualify as partial dependents on a case-by-case basis. However, the family member must typically prove that he or she was actually financially dependent on the deceased worker. Dependency is determined as of the date of the worker’s accident.
Death benefits are 66 2/3% of the worker’s average weekly wages, up to a maximum amount set by law each year. As of July 1, 2017, the maximum weekly death benefit is $948.15. This is the total amount available to all dependents combined. The Colorado Director of Workers’ Compensation decides how to divide the benefit among the dependents, in proportion to how much they relied on the worker.
A spouse will receive death benefits for life or until he or she remarries. If there are other dependents, such as a child, the spouse’s weekly payment will be distributed among the other dependents. If there are no other dependents, the spouse can receive two years’ worth of benefits paid in a lump sum. Children will receive death benefits until they reach 18 (or 21, if they are full-time students). Other family members who qualify as partial dependents will receive benefits for a maximum of six years.
In the case of a worker who was under 21 and had no dependents, the worker’s parents will receive $15,000 in a lump sum instead of weekly benefits.
The worker must have died as a result of the work-related injury or illness for these death benefits to apply. If the worker died of unrelated causes, the family members might be able to collect the worker’s unpaid permanent disability benefits.
The workers' comp insurance company must also pay up to $7,000 for burial expenses incurred by the deceased worker’s surviving family.
Dependents must file a claim petition for death benefits with the Colorado Division of Workers’ Compensation within two years of the worker’s death.
If you’re having trouble collecting workers’ comp death benefits, you should consult with a workers’ comp lawyer. To learn more, see our article on how much a Colorado workers’ comp lawyer costs.)