How to help my widowed mother collect German pension?
October 20, 2020 5:11 PM   Subscribe

My elderly mother just shared with me that she is due a pension from Germany for the years my late father worked there as a professor. She lives in the US. She has asked me to help her collect it and am at a loss as to how to even begin.

Both my mother and I are in the US. My mother is 85. I have increasingly been helping her with house chores and financial issues. Today she told me for the first time that she believes she is due a pension from when my father worked as a professor in Germany in the 80's. My father died 7 years ago.

Apparently she made attempts to collect her widow's pension but gave up after some months when the German authorities repeatedly asked her for more information, tax statements, her retirement statements, etc. I asked her why she'd never told me this before and she said she was embarassed that she had given up on it and let it go this long. She absolutely could use the money, which she thinks should be about $500 per month.

My German is very rusty, Google translate is a little wonky, and I'm having trouble understanding the things I've found online with any exactitude. I'm not even sure where to start in helping her collect. Is there some office I should call where they would speak English? Do I need a German lawyer? Should I just refile the form SSA-2490, which I assume she filed 7 years ago? I haven't even been able to tell whether she would be due the moneys she should have received these 7 years retroactively, if we can get her paid at all.

My father, before he died, had apparently been collecting his pension from Germany with no problem. I'm not sure whether any papers exist that prove that.

I feel overwhelmed by this task and could use steering in the right direction. Thanks!
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds to Work & Money (10 answers total)
Perhaps contacting one of the German consulates in the US would be a good place to start? They might, at the very least, be able to direct you in the right direction.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:00 PM on October 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: First, ask your mom where the tax returns folders/files are. (It sounds like maybe your dad handled them?) He likely received something akin to our 1099s. Check there for phone numbers and addresses related to wherever it was from which he received his pension.

Next, according to what it says here, "Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Policy ( provides general supervision. Federal Insurance Institute ( supervises the administrative functions of the German Pension Insurance." Both sites have an English-language link/tab. That should help a little.

Next, though they may have limited hours due to COVID, you could try to call the German consulate nearest you. Plus, I'm willing to bet that almost anyone in an official capacity (not just here, but in Germany) likely has a much better command of English than we might of Germany.

Chances are that you could only recoup up to three years of retroactive payments, but getting money going forward will still be helpful.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 6:05 PM on October 20, 2020

Best answer: If you haven't already seen it: Totalization Agreement with Germany, from the United States Social Security Administration. It appears that yes, you should refile form SSA-2490-BK (that link shouldn't make sense, as it's an internal SSA document). This is pretty specialized so you might have more luck calling the SSA 800 number and trying to get a totalization expert rather than just contacting your local office. If they aren't being helpful, contact your Congressional Representative.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:00 PM on October 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would definitely recommend at least speaking with a lawyer. German bureaucracy is trustworthy but extremely complicated and you deserve to have professional help. I bet you could get a free consultation for starters.
posted by smorgasbord at 7:50 PM on October 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Good morning. You should contact one of these folks. Try to find one who can speak English with you. They should help you through the process. You give them your information and they tell you what you are, or will be entitled to. You mother may even get credit for any education she has done. I need to make an appointment myself.
posted by pairofshades at 9:57 PM on October 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

After looking through the website a little more, perhaps it’s not what you need- but I will leave it up nevertheless!
posted by pairofshades at 10:01 PM on October 20, 2020

Anecdata, but a few years after my husband became a widower, the German social security folks contacted him out of the blue to set up monthly payments associated with contributions to the system made by his late wife. It had taken that long for his case to burble up, but they made it easy. Unaware of his entitlement, he had never initiated a claim. The point of this story is that the German social security office wanted my husband to receive what he was due, prodding on your mother's behalf may accelerate a process already under way, and that the wheels of bureaucracy may have been turning, ever so slowly, in the time since your father's death.
posted by carmicha at 3:34 AM on October 21, 2020

Best answer: Having dealt with German bureaucracy, I feel your pain. German tax documents (and, I assume other financial documents) are made up of weird internal jargon that defeats Google translate (and many Germans, apparently) and the document requirements tend to border on the anal-retentive.

If at all possible, I would suggest you try to find someone who speaks German and is familiar with the system (e.g. a German lawyer or accountant) to handle this on your behalf.
posted by suetanvil at 8:22 AM on October 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: There are consulting companies that specifically do this,which I know because a few have reached out to my parents over the years. I imagine the ones who contact potential customers are probably a bit scammy, but maybe see if you can find one with a good reputation? The foreign affairs office for Germany has lists for different jurisdictions on their localized consular affairs websites. Here is an example local to me.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:38 AM on October 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So far, out of all the places I contacted, the only one that responded was the German Mission/Embassy in Washington, DC. The German pension organization was unreachable, the university where my father worked did not respond, and neither did the two consulting companies I contacted. I was really surprised by that, given that ostensibly they would receive fees for service.

The German Mission sent an email, in perfect English, but which didn't sound that enthusiastic about helping. I plan on responding when I have my mother's paperwork but I'm pessimistic about the good that will do.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 6:49 PM on October 23, 2020

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