Social security...consultant? Lawyer? What am I looking for?
May 18, 2016 10:27 AM   Subscribe

I have a very detailed and confusing situation regarding my (now departed) mother and her social security benefits, and how they may or may not carry over to her husband - - who is not American. Before she died, she tried to research it herself, both online and in person when she would visit. She'd get conflicting information each time, but unfortunately, none of it in writing. I would like to hire an expert to settle the situation for once and for all...but what am I looking for?

I've done some Googling, but I'm not really sure what I'm looking for. I've found TONS of people that can help with social security DISABILITY situations, but this does not have anything to do with a disability. I've also reached out to my local Bar chapter, who said they'd only be able to refer me to someone if it was a disability situation, and told me to go research it on the Social Security website. Not super helpful. I am in California. This will make a huge difference in paying for things like her funeral, and the way my step-father will live, so I'd like to do right by them. Thanks in advance!
posted by fillsthepews to Law & Government (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you contacted Social Security directly? If you get the answer you want from them, then you're set. If not, then you'll be able to work off of the information you get from them.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:37 AM on May 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

You should call Social Security and talk to a representative. Or, go into your local office. Most government websites are only good if you are researching a very common question.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:38 AM on May 18, 2016

I agree that contacting Social Security is a good first step. That being said, it seems like the SS website is pretty comprehensive with respect to details about Survivors Benefits (which is sounds like you are asking about).

Regarding the "not American" thing, if your mother's husband is a permanent resident (green card), it seems like that's as good as being a citizen. Things get trickier if he's not though, especially if he isn't in the country legally. If you are in that kind of a tricky situation, I'd recommend an immigration lawyer. I would also recommend not providing too many personal details to SS if he is not here legally.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:42 AM on May 18, 2016

When it comes to leaving one's estate to a spouse tax-free (the unlimited spousal exemption) the surviving spouse has to be a true citizen. Otherwise the exemption is not unlimited and other strings are attached pretty quickly. My guess would be the same applies to SS benefits. You should definitely go to an office and ask.
posted by jtexman1 at 10:49 AM on May 18, 2016

Take your mother's spouse and make an appointment to see someone at Social Security. They'll take the time to walk through everything with you and your step-dad.

In person, with an appointment is the best way to do this.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:03 AM on May 18, 2016

My mother was a Social Security employee for 20+ years and answering people's questions like yours was part of her daily routine. In fact it was the part she enjoyed the most. Definitely set up an appointment in person or on the phone with someone as a way to get an answer on this. If you don't like the answers you get you can always try someone else.
posted by mmascolino at 11:14 AM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

When my mom passed away my dad received the one time death benefit of $255 and his monthly SS amount was adjusted a little bit but he was already receiving benefits. He does not receive additional continuing survivor benefits. This is in Massachusetts.

I believe the surviving spouse would receive additional benefits only under certain circumstances but not sure specifically what those are to advise you.

Best thing like mentioned above is to make an appointment with the social security office and go down there with your step-dad (?). Bring along any possible documentation you think you may need and if you will be managing any more of his affairs with the SS office make sure they add you as an authorized representative for him so that in the future you can interact with them without him being present and giving you permission every single time.
posted by eatcake at 11:15 AM on May 18, 2016

[As a general rule, U.S. government agencies don't report undocumented presence to DHS. They typically only do that if there is evidence of massive fraud or other criminal behavior. This permits the agencies to do their jobs (the IRS to collect taxes, for example) without frightening off compliance by undocumented aliens. This is not true for most law enforcement agencies.]
posted by Capri at 11:26 AM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

In addition to direct inquiry at a SS office, I would look for a lawyer at the Find a Lawyer page of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys - the big red button at The lawyer you speak to, if not conversant herself, will likely know someone who is, either another lawyer, an accountant, or a SSA consultant.

My brief perusal of the Social Security Handbook's page on widow/er's benefits tells me that the requirements include that she was eligible for benefits and that he was married to her for at least nine months. If he is a Polish citizen who never stepped foot in the U.S., for example, he may still receive the benefits if he meets those criteria.

But confirmation with someone knowledgeable is a good idea. The SSA is a rarity among Federal agencies in being pretty user-friendly.
posted by yclipse at 6:48 PM on May 18, 2016

I have also found the people at the SS office very competent and helpful. How old is your stepfather? If he's under 60 then he's most likely not eligible for anything now.
posted by mareli at 6:00 AM on May 19, 2016

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