by William A. Green, Esq.

If an employee dies as a result of a compensable work accident, certain workers’ compensation income benefits are payable to that employee’s dependents, sometimes even if those dependents are adult children. Eligibility for benefits depends upon the status of the survivors and, in certain cases, the extent of the dependency when there are no primary beneficiaries.

  • Primary Beneficiaries Certain beneficiaries are presumed to be wholly dependent by statute, including a surviving spouse, children under the age of 18 or enrolled full time in high school, children over the age of 18 who are physically or mentally incapable of earning a livelihood, and children under the age of 22 who are enrolled full time in a postsecondary institution of higher learning. Primary beneficiaries take to the exclusion of all other dependents. O.C.G.A. § 34-9-13(c)-(d).• Secondary Beneficiaries Individuals who are dependent upon the deceased employee for support, either in whole or in part, but do not meet the above-definition of a primary beneficiary, are termed “secondary beneficiaries.” Where there are no primary beneficiaries, a deceased employee’s secondary beneficiaries will thereafter be eligible for benefits. However, a secondary beneficiary must prove actual dependency on the deceased employee’s earnings at the time of the accident in order to be eligible, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 34-9-13(d). Secondary beneficiaries do not have to be biologically related to the deceased employee, so long as they can prove actual dependency and the dependency existed for a period of three months or more prior to the employee’s date of injury. In addition, the deceased employee must have had the intent to furnish such support.

Consequently, if an employee has an adult child at the time of his or her death, in order to be deemed wholly dependent, the adult child must be physically or mentally incapable of earning a livelihood. If he or she does not meet this requirement, and there are no other primary beneficiaries, the adult child will still be entitled to weekly death benefits if he or she was actually dependent upon the deceased employee’s financial support.