7 on your Side: Widower needs help getting survivor benefits for twin toddlers

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Nina Pineda reports on a widower's plea for help getting survivor benefits for her twin toddlers.

One Long Island couple had a race against the clock to start their family. When cancer cost a young mom her life, she left behind a legacy with the help of the federal government, but there were some hurdles to clear to get these benefits and insure her children's financial future. That's when the widower called for 7 On Your Side. "She loved being a mother. It was about eight months before she passed. She was the best mother, she could ever be," Jake Lamneck chokes back tears when he thinks back to his wife's courageous battle with cancer and what she left behind - two adorable miracles named Waverly and Loralei. Their mom, Sharde Lamneck, died just eight months after her twin girls were born.

"When they were born it was the greatest thing ever, a dream come true," recalls Jake. The couple's dream to become parents came true when a friend agreed to be a surrogate mom, carrying Jake and Sharde's frozen embryos to term when her cancer returned. "There is no bigger angel on earth than this woman who did this for them," said Jake's mom. "It came from the goodness of her heart she comes and watches the girls. She's a living angel."

After his wife passed, Jake says he hit a roadblock trying to get his wife's survivor benefits, about $1,500 each per month from the Social Security Administration, for each of his daughters. Initially, Jake says, the SSA denied giving wife's death benefits to his children because Sharde wasn't listed as the mother on her daughter's birth certificates. "It just said the our surrogate was the mother," said Jake. "Because when they were born even though they were genetically ours she was the mother in the eyes of the law."

All parties involved petitioned the court to have the surrogate and Sharde's swapped on new birth certificates. Yet even after SSA's legal counsel got the new, amended birth certificates, Jake says, he was told a decision on whether his daughters would receive survivor benefits could take up to two years. "My biggest fear," says Jake. "Is just being able to support me and my girls. They deserve the best. That's all she would want."

7 on your Side contacted Social Security, and it acted quickly. "They were approved after a week and a half," said Jake. "It's really a weight lifted off my shoulders." Instead of waiting years, he got two retroactive checks from social security, totaling $20,862.

"It made their future brighter," said the girls' grateful dad. These monthly Social Security survivor benefits will keep arriving each month until the twin toddlers reach their 18th birthdays. That's a total of $613,224 in benefits; a game changer for this family that's experienced so much heartache.

Because of privacy laws, the SSA couldn't discuss this case. But it did say, generally, 'Social Security Survivors Benefits may be available when a person who has worked long enough to qualify for benefits dies and leaves behind a spouse, child, or parent of a worker. They review all factors of eligibility, including the relationship to the deceased worker, to ensure they pay benefits only to those who are eligible. Social Security looks to State law to define these relationships when determining a person's eligibility for benefits. Each situation is unique and may require additional research of State law, prior to awarding benefits.

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