When an employee in Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts.)
Are You Eligible for Death Benefits in Massachusetts?
The following family members are conclusively presumed to be whole dependents entitled to death benefits:
- a spouse living with the worker at the time of death
- a child under the age of 18, or if enrolled in school full time, under the age of 24
- a child of any age who is physically or mentally incapacitated, and
- a parent, if the deceased worker was under 18 and lived with the parent at the time of death.
Other members of the deceased worker’s family or next of kin who were completely or partially dependent on the worker’s earnings may also qualify on a case-by-case basis.
How Much Are Death Benefits in Massachusetts?
Death benefit amounts are based on the deceased worker’s average weekly wages; how much you receive depends on your relationship to, and financial dependence on, the deceased worker and on how many beneficiaries there are, as explained below. Death benefits are subject to a maximum weekly limit, which is adjusted annually in October based on the state’s average weekly wage. As of October 2017, beneficiaries may not receive a combined total of more than $1,338.05 per week.
- Spouse and no children. The spouse receives two-thirds of the worker’s weekly wages. These benefits end if the spouse remarries. Otherwise, benefits continue until the spouse has received 250 times the state average weekly wage in effect at the time of the injury (plus any cost of living increases). After that, a spouse who has not remarried can still receive benefits if the spouse is able to prove that he or she is not self-supporting.
- Spouse and children. If the surviving spouse is also the parent of the deceased worker’s children, the spouse receives two-thirds of the worker’s weekly wages for the benefit of them all. If the spouse remarries, the children receive $60 per week each. Benefits continue until the family has received 250 times the state average weekly wage in effect at the time of the injury. However, children must receive benefits until they reach the age of 18. Older children who are physically or mentally incapacitated will also continue to receive benefits for as long as they are not self-supporting.
- Spouse and children by a former spouse. If the deceased worker has a surviving spouse and children who have a different guardian, the spouse and children share two-thirds of the worker’s wages equally, with the spouse taking the same share as each child.
- Children and no spouse. If the deceased worker has no surviving spouse, or the surviving spouse dies while receiving benefits, the children share two-thirds of the deceased worker’s weekly wages.
- Other wholly dependent family members. If the deceased worker was not yet 18 and lived with a parent, that parent is considered wholly dependent. Other family members and next of kin can also qualify as wholly dependent if they were completely reliant on the worker’s wages. These family members may receive a share of the overall benefit.
- Partially dependent family members. If the deceased worker left no spouse, children, or other wholly dependent family members, then family members or next of kin who were partially dependent on the worker’s wages may receive benefits. These family members receive a share of the overall benefit based on the extent to which they relied on the worker’s wages.
Funeral Benefits Available in Massachusetts
Under Massachusetts law, workers’ comp must also pay the reasonable costs of burial, up to eight times the current average weekly wage. As of October 2017, the current weekly amount is $1,338.05, so the maximum burial expense benefit available is $10,704.40.
Time Limits for Filing a Claim
You must notify the deceased worker’s employer right away to begin the process of getting benefits. The employer must notify its insurance company of the incident, and you should follow up to make sure you’ve fulfilled your obligations. If the insurance company denies your claim or you believe you are not receiving all of the benefits you are entitled to, you must file an Employee’s Claim. This claim must be filed within four years of the worker’s death.
If you’re having trouble getting the death benefits you are entitled to, a workers’ comp lawyer can help. See our article on how workers’ comp lawyers charge in Massachusetts to learn more.