One of my all time favorite songs has the following as its final stanza: "We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like, But you can never leave! " My mailbox has lately filled with stories that make Hotel California less apocryphal and more predictive. Welcome to Hotel California.
In the last two months I have received countless letters, emails, and phone calls from people whose parent or parents were long-deceased, long off the PERS roles, long after estates were closed, settled, finished. Despite the fact that PERS received notifications in every case of the deaths of these people, the collection machine at PERS continues to work at a high rate of speed trying to intimidate and badger people who have no connection with PERS to pay back "overpayments" from 1999. I'd like to think this is a mistake, as PERS has no legal basis to collect anything once an estate has passed through probate, all necessary taxes paid, creditors of record paid, and the estate closed.
The latest of these stories borders on comical. Consider, a family of married PERS members, one of whom succumbs in 2002 after being retired less than a year, and the spouse succumbs in 2007 after retiring in 2006. For whatever reason, the spouses waited until they were each ill to retire and did not take their benefits in a way that would permit any heir to receive a nickel of their earned PERS money. Thus, when the second spouse passed away, PERS neatly scooped up residual account balances (just employee money alone) totaling about $180,000 for free. Imagine how disturbed the children were when a letter from PERS shows up in one of their mailboxes addressed to the "Estates of John and Jane Doe" and explaining that the estates owe roughly $7500 for "overpayments" for Mrs. Doe, who retired in 2001, and for Mr. Doe who retired in 2006. Unfortunately, Mrs. Doe's estate closed in 2003 and Mr. Doe's estate closed completely in 2008. PERS was notified immediately in both cases of Mrs. Doe's decease and Mr. Doe's decease. So the question of the day is, why is PERS sending these letters out? I can't imagine how much time each of these letters takes, or how much each costs to process and send. Moreover, I can't quite imagine why Mr. Doe got one of these letters at all. Since he retired in 2006, the total amount of money he owed from 1999 had been swept out of his account prior to his retiring in 2006, following the ruling in Strunk.
It is difficult to advise these people because the letters appear so threatening, and it makes me wonder how many unsuspecting families have received one of these letters and have just paid the amount due even though the members are long deceased, there was no PERS beneficiarydom passing to the children, and the estates are long closed? People! If you aren't a PERS member, aren't a beneficiary, and don't happen to be handling an OPEN estate, there is nothing to owe, nothing to collect, no one to collect from. Estates can't be reopened willy-nilly except in cases of fraud, within a year. PERS had the opportunity to notify the estate of the potential obligation. They didn't and the estate closed more than 5 years ago. In addition to swilling up $180,000 in member cash, don't be so greedy as to think you are entitled to get more from a stone marker in a graveyard.
PERS lately reminds me extensively of the Hotel California: "you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave". Oy.
Any others with similar tales of woe?