Has it been legal for my mother to collect my step father's death benefits while living with someone

Full Question:

My mother (84) is very ill and has lived with her 'Husband' (95) for nearly 20 years. They do not file income taxes jointly nor do they have joint bank accounts, or any other utility bills together. Since they have been together, she has continued to receive death benefits of my stepfather (government pensions and insurance). Is she committing fraud and what can happen to her? She is very ill now and my sister and I want to make decisions regarding her care since we feel she is not legally married to this man.
05/18/2009   |   Category: Fraud   |   State: Texas   |   #16701

Answer:

The answer will depend on all the facts and circumstances involved. For example, if they are claiming to be a married couple in order to receive benefits, it is possible a fraud claim may be brought. Fraud involves a knowingly made misrespresentation that is intended to cause another to rely and act on it to their harm. Proof of intentional wrongdoing is required to convict on a criminal charge. There are also civil fraud claims that may be raised, when the intent is to recover money lost rather than punish for wrongdoing. It is possible for a statute of limitations to be tolled (suspended) when fraud prevents the discovery of the injury, so that the statutory time doesn't begin to run until the injury is discovered.

It is not illegal for a person to cohabit with another while receiving benefits of a former spouse. Cohabitation alone doesn't disqualify a person from widow's benefits. It is not uncommon for elderly couples to stay unmarried in order to not lose eligibility for financial benefits.