Lifetime Disability Pension FAQs – L&I Attorney Chris Sharpe

Chris Sharpe is an L&I Washington State Disability Pension Lawyer practicing pension law in Washington State for over 30 years. He writes extensively on L&I claims, permanent partial disability payments, and L&I pensions. The Sharpe Law Firm is here to make sure you know your rights before L&I makes a final L&I claim decision for you.

The information you need is here in this article. In addition we are available to talk with you anytime for a free consultation about your pension or permanent partial disability claim. 

What is a Washington State L&I Disability Pension?

An L&I Pension is the benefit paid to an injured worker who will never return to work. A pension is a Washington State L&I Claim Settlement with Lifetime Payments.

If you cannot work again, because of a serious job injury, learn the L&I pension rules. A pension is a money payment every month for life.  The dollar amount is roughly equal to your time loss payment for the rest of your life. A pension is the best settlement benefit L&I has to offer.

Any L&I Workers Compensation Claim Can End with an L&I Pension.

An L&I pension is not a retirement pension. This pension does not come from your company.  It doesn’t matter if your employer does or does not have a pension plan. This pension is L&I retirement.

This pension comes from L&I and not your employer. It is an Injury Pension. This is a pension you get because you have an L&I claim with a career ending job injury. Pensions are a little-known and little-talked about benefit. Few workers have heard of a pension in the L&I context. If you have a chance to get a pension you owe it to yourself to ask questions and see if you qualify. It could be the smartest thing you have ever done.

How to Qualify for a Washington State L&I Pension?

To get an L&I pension you need good planning, good facts, good advice, and a little good luck.

The pension rules are straightforward and easy to understand. However these pensions are not easy to get. Less than two percent of all L&I claims end up in pension.

The road to a pension is a long and winding journey. Along the way you will meet claims managers, vocational counselors, employers, and independent medical exam doctors who don’t want you to get a pension.  They will try to derail your pension journey. Keep in mind that L&I has ruined many a pension journey before you.  This could be your first trip down the pension road. You will want to look ahead and see where you are going. Learn the pension rules and be prepared for the problems you will encounter.

Do I Have a Good L&I Pension Claim?

Here is what you need to qualify for a total permanent disability pension in Washington State:

  1. Open Washington State L&I Injury or Occupational Disease Claim
  2. Favorable Medical Opinion. A helpful doctor is a must. Your doctor will eventually need to say in writing that: “more likely than not you cannot work in any substantial gainful occupation.”
  3. Medical and Vocational Information.  You need to prove that considering your age, education and work experienceyou cannot obtain or work at any job.
    • Age – the older the better
    • Education – for once in your life less education is better
    • Work Experience -The less you have previously done the better
    • You Cannot Work – at any substantial (full time), gainful (for at least minimum wage), occupation.
  4. Do you want us to evaluate your pension chances? We can do this for you.

I Have a Permanent Total Disability, I Can’t Work, and Can’t Return to Work. Can I Get an L&I Disability Pension

Yes you can get a pension if you can prove your pension claim.  An inability to work because of a job injury is precisely what qualify you for an L&I disability pension.

L&I Pension Claims Look Like This:

  • A Likely Pension Winner: A 60 year old, with a 10th grade education, who has only worked as a logger. He has both a serious back injury and depression. His doctor says he cannot work at any job.
  • A Likely Pension Loser:  A 35 year old with a college education who has held many jobs and has been employed as a cashier. His doctor is a wimp and afraid of L&I. His doctor agrees with the IME.

How Long Does Washington L&I Have to Review A Claim for Pension?

There is no effective deadline for a pension review. Pension adjudicators are busy and typically have a backlog. Sometimes it seems like forever. Be patient. The important thing is that your L&I file has good and up to date medical and vocational information.

What’s the Difference Between an L&I Disability Pension and a Disability Pension?

An L&I Disability Pension is lifetime benefits for an injured worker who will never return to work because of a job injury or occupational disease.

A Disability Pension is a general term used to describe any pension for medical reasons. It could be in any system, such as Social Security, Employer benefit, Insurance contract, Private pension plans, Boeing Pensions.

Do All Permanently Totally Disabled L&I Workers Want a Pension?

A pension is the best benefit L&I has to offer.

Yes, you want it if you can get it. The only person who does not want a pension is someone who will return to work, or a single person who will die soon.

What is Better – L&I Pension or L&I PPD?

When comparing L&I Pension vs L&I PPD, look at your employability.

  • Pension. Pensions pay more, and are for people who cannot and will not work again. A Pension pays for some of your lost income.
  • PPD. A Permanent Partial Disability Settlement is money for someone who can or will return to the workforce. PPD pays you for medical impairment but not loss of income. If you are going to return to work, get the best PPD settlement you can.

The L&I Pension Calculator. What’s a Pension Worth and How Much Does it Pay?

The pension calculator is the mathematical formula which yields the amount of your monthly pension payment.

A pension is roughly the same as time loss for the rest of your life. To get a working estimate of the lifetime pension value, multiply your time loss check by 26, then multiply that by how many more years you have to live. To be more precise, add in an annual cost of living adjustment. That calculation equals a rough approximation of the value of a pension for you. If you will be penalized with a Social Security Offset, be sure to factor that into your analysis. Get help figuring this out if you need it.

  • L&I pension payments are made on the 15th of every month. If you do this right L&I pension payments are for the rest of your life.

Formula for how much a pension will pay:
(Time Loss Check Amount x 26) x Years Left To Live + Cost of Living Adjustment – Minus Social Security Offset = Lifetime Pension Value

Why is a Washington State L&I Pension Worth so Much?

A Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) award generally includes money only for physical and mental impairment.

A pension settlement is worth much more because instead of payment for medical impairment pays some loss of income for the rest of your life. This can be a lot of money over time.

If you are not going to work again because of your job injury, talk to attorney Sharpe. See if you qualify for a pension.

Pension Cost of Living Adjustment – COLA

Pension payment amounts are scheduled to increase each year, effective July 1. The Cost of Living Allowance is determined by  the change in the states average wage from the previous calendar year. This often amounts to a nice yearly increase.

Can I (DIY) “Do It Yourself”?

Yes it can be done. The pension rules are the same for you with or without a lawyer. You need to fit your facts inside the pension rules. Easier said than done; but it can be done. The important part is that you are prepared and ready at each step. You can’t DIY on a trial and error basis. One critical mistake will ruin your chance for a pension. Get it right and you will be happy.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Get My Pension?

Good Pension lawyers cost money. A good lawyer is often the difference between winning and losing a pension. The good news is that an L&I lawyer who believes in your case will charge contingent legal fees.  Contingent legal fees mean that your disability pension lawyer will not charge an  attorney fee unless he/she wins money for you.

Should I Hire an L&I Attorney?

Here is a good way to decide if you should hire an L&I attorney.  A lawyer is best used as a guide who gets you there, and who helps from start to finish. Could your L&I claim benefit from a guide?  You don’t need a guide for a walk in the park . You need a guide to cross the Okepanoke Swamp. What does your claim feel like, a park or a swamp?

Pension Claim Examples

  • Claim goes smoothly. Medical care on the right track? Have good facts? Has your doctor told L&I you will never work again because of your job injuries? Is your doctor is strong and not afraid of L&I? If so and you are brave, you could try to DIY.
  • Claim problems? Tough medical situation? Unhelpful vocational counselor? Bad IME report? Is your doctor unwilling to stand up to L&I?  Claims manager not on your side? If so don’t pretend everything is OK. It is not. Talk to an L&I lawyer and see if they have advice for you and if he or she is willing to help with your case.

L&I Pension Attorney Fees

I am Chris Sharpe. I wrote this page and this website. I have counseled thousands of injured workers about their L&I claims. I have helped many of them get their lifetime pension.

We charge 15% of ongoing pension payments if we get a pension for you. Our firm is glad to offer you a free strategy session – no charge. We’ll talk to you about your case and your chances so that your decision about trying to get a pension and a lawyer is easier.

Can I Pass my Pension on to My Wife or Children When I Die? Is there a Survivor Pension Benefit? 

Spousal Pension

What happens to your pension when you die? It depends. Whether or not there will be Spousal Washington State Labor and Industries pension benefits after death depend on your facts and the option choice you make.

  • If you are married on the day a pension is granted, at that time you will be given the option to pass your pension on to that spouse. To do this you choose option 2 or option 3.  If you are still married to that same person on the date of your death, then the pension should pass to them.
  • If you are not married on the day your pension is granted, you cannot later marry and pass on your pension.
  • If you are not married before a pension is granted, but are living with a partner or otherwise firmly paired up, you should consider getting married if you want your partner to benefit from your pension. This is good estate planning so long as you are willing to reduce your rate now to get a pension which will last for both of your lives.

Children’s Pension

If you are single with children on the date your pension is granted, you have the option to pass your pension on to your children. Most children can only receive this pension until they are 18, or 23 if in school full time. Totally disabled children can continue to receive a pension so long as they remain in that disabled status.

What is an Option 2 and Option 3 Pension?

These pensions are simply the pre-planned continuance of a regular L&I pension after the workers death. Payments are to a spouse or to a child. This is planning for your family’s future, get it right.  At pension award time, the worker is given the three pension options.

  1. Option 1 – the workers pension ends with his or her death (unless the death is the result of either the job injury or occupational disease).
  2. Option 2 – for a reduced pension rate, the pension will pass on to the eligible surviving spouse or an eligible child.
  3. Option 3 – for a reduced pension rate, the pension will pass on to the eligible surviving spouse or an eligible child.
  4. The reduced rate of these pension options apply only if  and when the workers death is unrelated to the accepted injury caused medical conditions. If the death is causally related to the job, see Widows Pension below for a better pension rate.
  5. Option 2 & 3 spousal pensions last for a lifetime, even with remarriage.

Can I get Both PPD Settlement Money and an L&I Pension For the Same Claim?

The general rule is no, you cannot get both PPD and a pension for the same claim. However, if you are awarded a PPD settlement you can appeal that decision. How To Disagree With An L&I Decision. If you later win a pension, you can pay the settlement back and keep the much more valuable pension. There are some exceptions to the general rule per RCW.51.32.060(4).

Job Training, L&I Pensions, and Permanent Total Disability (PTD).

L&I pensions are for injured workers who can never work again.  L&I pensioners are permanently totally disabled. Successfully completing vocational training is evidence you can work, so maybe no pension. Sincerely attempting job training and failing still allows for and actually encourages the award of a pension.

What if I Return to Work While Receiving a Washington State L&I Pension?

Trial Work Period.

You can try work to see if you can handle it if you want. You must coordinate this with your doctor and your claims manager. If you do return to work in the same or greater capacity as you were when injured, your pension status will change. As a first step L&I may suspend pension benefits while you try to work. If you are successful at your job attempt and “you are able to maintain gainful employment for wages” then L&I may terminate your pension  RCW 51.32.160 (2). At that time you may wish to apply for a PPD settlement.

Be Honest with the Department of Labor and Industries.

You are not allowed to work full time and collect pension benefits. That is dishonest.  Keep in mind that while you are on a pension, L&I is looking at you. Be honest with L&I. They look at your reported social security earnings history, your social media presence, and other community information. If they see something that looks like work activity then they will follow up, sometimes with a private investigator. They also require you to certify each year your earnings and work activity.  Be honest with L&I. You cannot collect pension benefits and work full time. If you work and don’t tell L&I you are asking for trouble. If they figure out you are working and not reporting this work on your yearly declaration, then they may charge you with fraud.

Can I Do Part Time Work While on an L&I Pension?

The easy and safe answer is “no,” and many L&I attorneys will tell you exactly that. However the law in this area is untested.  It is likely you can do a little part time work and still keep your pension. How much work, what you can do for work, and how much you can earn, while still keeping your pension is fact dependent. Your age, education, and work experience are factors. Your employment pattern (full or part time) on your date of injury is a factor. Will your return to work be far less hours than your pre-injury employment pattern? Will your return to work be for fewer dollars than previous work? If called upon would your doctor strongly support that these reduced hours are your maximum working capability? Every case is different. Every pension adjudicator is different. This is an untested area of the law. Read the L&I rule defining employability WAC 296-19A-010.  Talk to L&I or to an L&I lawyer if you need guidance in this area.

A pension is all or nothing; that is to say there is no reduced pension similar to social security where you can work a little and take a reduced payment. You can do a little part time work while on a pension, however there is a limit to how much work you can do and still keep your pension.  The limit is when part time work becomes gainful employment for wages. If and when it does then L&I may move to terminate your pension.  Be careful here and don’t do too much work.

Can I Volunteer While on a Pension

You can volunteer while on a pension, however you should be careful and do it correctly. Get your doctors approval. Have it be a therapeutic thing which is good for your physical and mental health. Don’t do so much that it rises to the level of work type activity WAC 296-14-4123(1). Don’t receive wages for volunteering and do inform L&I of the volunteer activity.

What is a Declaration of Entitlement?

A declaration of entitlement is the form you must use to certify your continued eligibility for your pension benefit money from L&I. Persons on a pension will be sent this form once a year. A signature in front of a notary is required. The Department of Labor and Industries will mail you  your declaration of entitlement form around the same time every year. If you do not return this form they will suspend benefit. Here is a link to the Declaration of Entitlement 

What is Voluntary Retirement?

Voluntary retirement is different. It is not volunteering when you are retired. Voluntary retirement is an artificial claim status made up by L&I, to keep from paying pension benefits. Don’t let them do this to you. If you get an order stating you have voluntarily retired. Appeal it. See Voluntary Retirement.

How Does the Surviving Spouse Get a Pension

Widow’s Pension Qualifications

A widows pension is a survivors pension for the widow or widower of the worker who dies because of the job injury.  The widows pension qualifications are:

  • Worker dies as a result of a job injury or occupational disease
  • Widow and worker were married on the date of death
  • Widow files an application for pension benefits in time – you must file before the statute of limitations expires
    • File within one year with an open L&I claim
    • File within one year of an injury with a not yet opened injury claim
    • File within two years, maybe longer with a not yet open occupational disease claim. 
    • Don’t quit or give up. To qualify you have to get involved and do something. You can do this. Contact us if you want help. Chris Sharpe L&I Pension Attorney. 

What are Surviving Spouse Pension Survivor Benefits?

  • Money every month to the surviving spouse, for the remainder of their life.
  • A one-time “immediate” payment if the worker’s death resulted from the workplace injury or disease
  • A burial benefit if death is directly related to the job injury or occupational disease. The dollar amount is determined by the date of death
  • If you remarry you may lose your pension

How Long does a Widow Survivor Pension Last?

A survivors pension for a death which is related to the job injury will last for a lifetime unless the survivor remarries.

What is a Pension for Dependent Family Members?

This is not a Widow’s pension. This is different. A pension for dependent family members is a survivors pension.

How to Qualify as a Dependent if the Worker Dies Because of the Job Injury or Occupational Disease.

  • The  worker must die because of an L&I injury or occupational disease.
  • The family members must be financially dependent on the workers wages

Who is a Family Member

A dependent family member can be parents, grandparents, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, nephews, and nieces.

What is a Statutory Pension?

A statutory pension is a different kind of pension. Many of the above rules don’t apply. To qualify for a statutory pension, the injured worker needs to lose two limbs or both eyes. God forbid this happened to you. If you do qualify for a statutory pension, you may be able to return to work,  even full time, and still receive the statutory pension benefit.

What is a Pension Reserve?

This is the amount of money L&I sets aside as an estimate of what your pension will cost them. It’s just an actuarial guess and is not important to you or your pension. Forget about it.

Can I get L&I Medical Care for Medication and Treatment While on a Washington State L&I Pension?

Most pensioners lose their L&I medical care when the pension is granted. A few lucky but seriously injured pensioners are able to get a treatment order for accepted job related conditions. The L&I supervisor has discretionary authority to deem treatment necessary to protect such workers’ life or provide for the administration of medical and therapeutic measures. RCW 51.36.010(4) and the L&I Policy Manual Chapter 15.   A good L&I lawyer can help with this.

Pensioners who do not have a treatment order when the pension is granted may apply for one later. There is no statute of limitations for this application.

Can I Cash Out my Pension?

Yes, but don’t do it. You only get pennies on the dollar. It is never worth it. NEVER.

Is a Washington State L&I  Pension Taxable?

A Washington State L&I disability pension is not taxable. Federal Tax Regulations 1-104-1(b) states that workers compensation benefits for personal injuries or sickness incurred in the course of employment are excluded from gross income. This means they are not taxable.

What Will it Cost to Get a Pension?

Consult with an L&I lawyer. They can look at the facts of your case and let you know what it will take and if it is worth it to try and get a pension.

Lawyers who do L&I pension work charge contingent fees. That means there should be no attorney fees unless you get the pension. Even then the fees get paid from the payments made by L&I and are not required up front or out of your pocket.

Who Will Help Me Get this Pension

Don’t count on L&I to help you get a pension. We are here to help you. We will be happy to give you advice and if you qualify then help you get the pension you so deserve.

Losing your ability to work work again or losing a spouse is a major life setback but it’s not the end of the story.  Contact Us and we will try and give your story a happy ending.

A Final Word About L&I Pensions

If you will never work again because of your job injury an L&I pension is for you.

Talk to us at the Sharpe Law Firm about your pension chances. It may be the smartest thing you ever do. Attorney Chris Sharpe and his staff are ready to advise and to help. Contact Us for a free strategy session.

Watch a video presentation about Pensions by Pension Lawyer Chris Sharpe

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Chris Sharpe

Meet Chris Sharpe

Christopher Sharpe is the go to attorney for injured persons. His law firm is helpful, honest, and knowledgeable about workers' compensation and personal injury law in the State of Washington. Chris has been helping injured Washington State workers for over 40 years. He has built a successful law practice by thoroughly educating, honestly helping, and successfully representing workers throughout Washington State.

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