Social Security payment battle

Seven On Your Side
May 31, 2013 3:32:22 PM PDT
So many people taking care of aging parents and relatives know it's important to get power of attorney to handle matters for them.

A Long Island woman thought she had crossed every T when it came to settling her late aunt's estate, but when Social Security took the last payment due to her, she asked 7 On Your Side to help her battle to get it back.

It was a long distance fight: the niece lives on Long Island, and her aunt in Florida.

We call it "power of attorney", but in the Sunshine state where the retiree lived, the term is "personal representative".

The difference in terminology led to the federal government taking back the benefits this 94-year-old earned.

It's been more than a year since Brenda Ferrante's beloved Aunt Tina died, and getting back the money she deserved has become a full time job.

Brenda had been handling all of the 94-year-old's affairs for her for several years.

"She knew could trust me. I handled all her bill payments, setting up doctor's appointment, things like that," said Brenda Ferrante, the deceased's niece.

It was the least she could do for the "second" mom she adored.

In her younger days, Tina Schwartz was mistaken for Marilyn Monroe, and childless herself, she doted on her nieces and nephews, especially Brenda.

"She got me braces, anything in our family that we didn't have money for," Ferrante said.

When her aunt's final Social Security payment, about $2,000, was deposited into their joint account in January of 2012, Brenda says she checked before using it to pay off Tina's last bills.

"Social Security said emphatically 'This is her money', even though it was deposited January 3, it still reflects all of December, go ahead and use it to pay bills," Ferrante said.

So that's what she did.

"As a legal representative that's what you do, you pay the bills until the money runs out," Ferrante said.

But the money didn't have a chance to run out. Shortly after putting it in, Social Security withdrew it without warning.

"I was shocked," Ferrante said.

Countless letters, emails and phone calls later, what she thought would be an easy fix was stalled.

For starters, the Social Security office in Florida didn't acknowledge Brenda as a personal representative for the deceased, despite being named as having "power of attorney" in her will.

"I'm a big believer in right and wrong and I believe they made a mistake," Ferrante said.

Armed with stacks of records, she took her case to court.

"If you know you are right about it you fight for it!" Ferrante said.

The judge ruled in her favor and helped get Social Security to expedite giving this money back. "Let me just say one thing, 7 On Your Side was wonderful," Ferrante said, "I could have done the happy dance I was so excited!"

A representative from Social Security told 7 On Your Side it did nothing wrong, that's the system.

Their judge has the leeway to deviate, which they it did in this case.

The big takeaway is with regard to Social Security's decisions; you can appeal and if you're still unsatisfied, request a hearing before a judge.