When an employee in Indiana dies from a work-related illness or injury, the employee’s spouse, children, and other dependents may be eligible for death benefits through workers’ compensation. These weekly benefits are paid to surviving family members who depended on the worker for financial support. Workers’ comp also pays for burial expenses. (To learn more about benefits available to injured workers, see our article on collecting workers’ comp in Indiana.)
Indiana’s workers’ compensation law divides potential beneficiaries into three groups: presumptive dependents, total dependents in fact, and partial dependents in fact.
If there are any presumptive dependents, they will receive death benefits. The following people qualify as presumptive dependents:
If there are no presumptive dependents, then total dependents in fact will receive benefits. A total dependent in fact is someone who was completely financially dependent on the deceased worker and is either related to the worker by blood or marriage or an unmarried child under the age of 18. For example, if the worker lived with a girlfriend and supported her young children, the children could be entitled to benefits even though they are not legally or biologically related to the worker.
If there are no presumptive dependents and no total dependents in fact, then partial dependents in fact will receive benefits. Partial dependents in fact are people who meet the criteria above for total dependents, but who are only partly financially dependent on the deceased worker’s earnings.
The maximum award to all beneficiaries is two-thirds of the deceased worker’s average weekly wage. State law caps the amount of the worker’s wage that will be counted at $1,170, so the maximum weekly payment to all beneficiaries is $780. The total benefits that may be paid out to all beneficiaries may not exceed 500 weeks of benefits.
If there are presumptive dependents (spouse and children, as defined above), they share the weekly benefit equally. A surviving spouse’s benefits end upon remarriage, but the spouse will receive a lump sum payment equal to two years’ worth of benefits (or less, if two years’ worth of benefits would exceed the maximum benefit). A surviving child’s benefits terminate at age 21 or, in the case of an older child, when the child marries or becomes gainfully employed.
If there are no presumptive dependents, total dependents will share the benefit equally. If there are no total dependents, partial dependents will receive benefits. However, partial dependents receive an amount proportionate to how much of the worker’s wages the worker contributed to the dependent during life. For example, if a worker gave her elderly grandmother 20% of her weekly earnings, her grandmother would be entitled to 20% of the total available benefit.
Under Indiana law, workers’ comp must pay the deceased worker’s burial expenses, up to $7,500.
Dependents seeking death benefits or funeral benefits must first notify the employer of the employee’s death in writing within 30 days. The employer is required to notify the insurance carrier, which will start the benefits process. If the insurance carrier does not handle the claim to your satisfaction, you may file an application for adjustment of claim, asking for a hearing before the worker’s compensation board. You must file this claim within two years of the employee’s death.
If the employer doesn’t file a claim for you, or the insurance carrier doesn’t grant your claim, you should consider talking to a workers’ comp attorney. Learn more about how workers’ comp attorneys charge in Indiana.