In many states, the death benefit owed to a surviving spouse is commuted, sometimes at a significant discount, if the surviving spouse remarries. The Missouri statute, § 287.240(4)(a) R.S. Mo., is one such example. It provides that in the case of remarriage the surviving spouse receives, in lieu of further benefits, “a lump sum payment equal in amount to the benefits due for a period of two years.”
In a case of first impression, Ash v. Millennium Restoration & Constr., 2013 Mo. App. LEXIS 1005 (Aug. 27, 2013), a Missouri appellate court recently held that the “two years” of benefits refers to the total death benefits that would be paid to all dependents during a two-year period, not just the share of that total that the surviving spouse would have received (the original death benefit had been apportioned between the surviving spouse and her dependent children). Thus, where the Commission awarding a weekly death benefit in the amount of $742.72 and allocated $495.15 per week of the benefit to the dependent children, and $247.57 per week to the surviving spouse, the statute required the “remarriage” benefit to be computed at 104 times the full $742.72, and not 104 times the spouse’s share. The court held that it could not give the phrase a broader application than was warranted by its plain language or presume a limitation that was not expressed.