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California Death of Employee: What you need to know

In the event of the death of an employee, the employer must pay up to $15,000 in unpaid wages (including unused vacation pay) to the employee's surviving spouse or the estate conservator, provided the spouse or conservator has presented the employer with the necessary documentation (CA Prob. Code Sec. 13600). The law applies equally to a surviving registered domestic partner.
The maximum net payment must be adjusted to reflect any cost-of-living increase occurring after January 1 of the preceding year. Only increases to the net payable amount are permitted under the law. The amount may not be decreased as a result of the cost-of-living adjustment.
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Required documentation. To collect, the spouse, registered domestic partner, or conservator must present an affidavit to the employer, identifying himself or herself, stating the name of the deceased employee, the date and place of the person's death, and other required information (CA Prob. Code Sec. 13601). A spouse or domestic partner presenting the affidavit must provide reasonable proof of his or her identity; an estate conservator must provide reasonable proof of his or her appointment as estate conservator.
Discharge of liability. An employer is discharged from liability for the amount of compensation paid. An employer may rely on the statements in the affidavit as sufficient documentation and is not required to make additional inquiries or to verify the statements contained in the affidavit (CA Prob. Code Sec. 13603).
If employers have questions or need information, they should contact the local probate department located in the county Superior Court.
Reviewed August 2015.

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