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ALBRIGHT ESTATE. (05/25/61)

May 25, 1961

ALBRIGHT ESTATE.


Appeals, Nos. 50 and 51, March T., 1961, from decree of Orphans' Court of Allegheny County, No. 2092 of 1958, in re estate of Rose Ferrone Albright, an incompetent. Decree reversed.

COUNSEL

Donald W. Bebenek, with him William F. Donatelli, for appellants.

Franklin Blackstone, Jr., guardian ad litem, in propria persona.

Before Jones, C.j., Bell, Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Bok and Eagen, JJ.

Author: Cohen

[ 404 Pa. Page 153]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE COHEN.

In 1951, Charles Albright, Sr., died survived by his widow Rose Ferrone Albright and two children, Roseann and Charles, Jr. The deceased was insured under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.A. § 301 (1956), and his widow and children, as dependents, qualified for the various benefits provided for in the Act.

We are here concerned with child's insurance benefits which were received monthly in the name of the mother on behalf of her two minor children as provided for in § 402(d) of the Social Security Act. The widow of the deceased received, on her own behalf, monthly checks representing widow's insurance benefits under § 402(e) of the Act.

In 1952 Rose Albright became ill and, in 1954, was committed to Woodville State Hospital where she remained until 1959. She was adjudicated an incompetent in 1958. During the period of her illness (1952-1959) the children were maintained and reared by appellants, sisters of the incompetent. Even though the incompetent was not maintaining the children, she continued to receive monthly child benefit checks until she entered Woodville. These checks were either cashed

[ 404 Pa. Page 154]

    or placed in her bank account. After the incompetent entered Woodville in 1954, appellant, Lucy Mauro, continued to deposit the monthly checks in her account.

Subsequent to the widow's recovery and adjudication of competency in 1959, the orphans' court ordered her guardian to distribute to the children the amount of child benefits which were deposited in her bank account. The appellants excepted to this decree of distribution, contending that since they maintained and reared the two children during the period of their mother's incompetency, they should be entitled, upon proper proof, to the accumulated child benefits still held in the incompetent's estate.

When the widow became ill and the appellants assumed the responsibilities of maintaining and rearing the children, she ceased to be a proper party to receive child benefits on behalf of her children since the custodial relationship, which had entitled her to receive the benefits in the first instance, had been severed. Consequently, all subsequent child benefit payments made by the Social Security Administration were made incorrectly and could have been recovered by the United States under the general principle of law that the federal government has a right to recover funds wrongfully, erroneously or illegally paid. U.S. v. Wurts, 303 U.S. 414, 58 S. Ct. 637, 82 L. Ed. 932 (1938). Section 404(b) of the Social Security Act, however, permits ...


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