When an employee in Wisconsin dies from a work-related illness or injury, the employee’s spouse, children, and other dependents may be eligible for death benefits under the workers’ compensation laws of Wisconsin. The workers' comp death benefit includes a payment for burial expenses and weekly benefits for surviving family members who depended on the worker for financial support. (To learn more about benefits available to injured workers in general, see our article on collecting workers’ comp in Wisconsin.)
Under Wisconsin’s workers’ compensation law, death benefits may be available to those who were dependent, in whole or in part, on the deceased worker’s earnings.
These family members are presumed to be wholly dependent:
If the worker had a spouse, domestic partner, or child entitled to benefits, no other dependents will receive benefits. If not, other family members may receive benefits if they were wholly dependent on the worker’s earnings. Other family members can include a divorced spouse who has not remarried, a sibling, a lineal descendant or ancestor, or another family member related by blood or by adoption.
If there are no wholly dependent beneficiaries, those who are partially dependent family members may receive benefits. In addition, the deceased employee’s parents may receive a total death benefit of $6,500, as long as they were not estranged from the employee. (If the employee’s parents were actually wholly or partially dependent on the employee’s earnings, they may be entitled to more.)
The total benefit available to all beneficiaries is four times the worker’s annual earnings. The weekly payments can't exceed two-thirds of the deceased worker’s average weekly wages, up to a current maximum of $994 per week. (This is the cap for 2018; it changes every year. Find current amounts at the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s website.) This cap may include disability indemnity payments paid at the same time.
If the worker had a spouse or domestic partner and children, the children are entitled to an additional benefit once the spouse or partner’s benefits end. If any children remain who are still under the age of 18 when the spouse or partner's benefits end, they will continue to receive a benefit of 10% of the full benefit that was paid out (up to a current maximum of $99.40 per week), until they turn 18. A child who is physically or mentally incapacitated from earning may receive benefits for a longer period, but not for more than 15 years.
Under Wisconsin law, workers’ comp must pay the actual cost of burial for the deceased worker, up to $10,000. The worker's death must have resulted from the injury.
To start the benefits process, you must notify the deceased worker’s employer of the worker’s death. The employer should then send the appropriate information to its insurance carrier, which will make a decision on the claim. You must provide this notice within two years.
If the claim is denied, or you are unsatisfied with the employer’s or insurance carrier’s response, you should talk to a Wisconsin worker’s comp lawyer to find out how to proceed. (Learn how workers’ comp lawyers charge in Wisconsin.)