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My dad got married about seven months ago. Recently, he suffered a major stroke. His wife has not seen him since he went into the hospital. He just got transferred to a nursing facility. We learned that she went to Social Security to collect his benefits. Can she do that? Can Dad's new wife steal his Social Security?
Social Security has a "Representative Payment Program" that provides financial management for people who aren't capable of managing their own benefits.
The "representative payees" are typically spouses or other family members who volunteer to manage the money. They are required to use the money to benefit the recipient and to keep good records of how the money was spent.
If you suspect your stepmother is using the money on herself, you could call the fraud hotline for the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General at (800) 269-0271 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Or you can submit a report online anytime at OIG.SSA.gov/report.
Before you do that, however, you may want to come up with a larger plan to deal with your father's affairs. The fact that your stepmother has shown no interest in your dad's well-being, and that she likely has access to his financial accounts, is cause for concern.
It's possible your father planned ahead by creating a power of attorney that gives his wife the legal ability to make financial decisions for him. If that's the case, you likely would have to take her to court to try to wrest that control away from her.
You may wind up in court anyway. Most people don't plan ahead, and in the absence of a power of attorney, a court often has to appoint a conservator or a guardian to make decisions for someone who is incapacitated.
That can be an expensive process, and there likely will be bills from the nursing home that need to be paid as well. Medicare, the government health program for people 65 and over, typically doesn't cover nursing home and other custodial care costs.
You would be smart to hire an attorney with experience in these issues to help guide you. You can get referrals from the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys at NAELA.org.
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