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Social Security forgives debt of daughters whose ‘dead’ father turned up alive 47 years later

January 2, 2019

Two sisters faced with repaying the federal government $100,000 after their “dead” father turned up alive 47 years later received some good news in the waning hours of 2018.

Lynne Grensted Thurston, 61, said a Social Security Administration agent notified her Monday that her share of the bill and the share owed by her sister, 63-year-old Beth Grensted, had been forgiven.

“We were already sitting down to dinner, and she [the agent] called to say she was leaving the office, but, ‘I wanted to let you know that the decision has been made,’ ” Mrs. Thurston told The Washington Times. ” ‘It’s completely erased for you and your sister.’ ”

Mrs. Thurston, a gardener who lives in McMinnville, Oregon, could hardly believe it.

“I was just so overwhelmed. It was hard to even process,” she said. “I called my sister and said, ‘I need you to sit down,’ and she was just blown away. It’s been such a long process. So many people have been praying.”

In June 2016, the sisters were hit with a bombshell: Their father, Douglas Grensted, who had been declared legally dead after disappearing on a hunting trip in 1968, had actually faked his death to run off with his mistress to Arizona. He died there in December 2015.

Not only that, but the SSA ordered the sisters and their mother to repay about $100,000 in survivors’ benefits. Mrs. Thurston, who was 11 when her father vanished, was billed about $12,000; her sister Beth, who was 13, owed $10,000, and their mother, Barbara Grensted, received a bill for $87,000.

They filed for waivers, arguing that they were victims of a fraud perpetrated byDouglas Grensted, a mortician who stole the identity of a man whose funeral he had overseen, Richard Morley, in Grover Beach, California.

While the amounts owed by the sisters has been forgiven, Mrs. Thurston said her mother’s $87,000 tab is still under review. Barbara Grensted died in September at the age of 89.

An administrative law judge ruled that Barbara Grensted could repay the amount in increments of $10 per month until her death, after which the debt would be erased. When she died two months later, however, the judge reversed his ruling, ordering the full amount to be paid by her estate.

The sisters feared that they could lose the home in Mount Hermon, California, where their mother and Beth Grensted, who never married, had lived for decades. The ruling is under review by an appeals council in Falls Church, Virginia.

“We have reason to believe that they’re working on it actively now,” Mrs. Thurston said. “They had said initially it could take three months to two years for the council to see it, but they’ve already contacted our attorney for some additional information, so that tells me they have it on their table and they’re actively working on it.”

The $87,000 bill could also be reassigned to the sisters, but Mrs. Thurston said the agent told her such a scenario was unlikely.

“The way it works is if they choose not to forgive my mom’s [share], they could decide to reassign it to my sister or myself,” Mrs. Thurston said. “But she [the agent] said, ‘If that happens, and I can’t see that it would, but if it does, call me and I will take care of it.’ ”

The decision came as an enormous relief to the sisters, who said they would have been hard-pressed to repay such a sum. Miss Grensted works part-time, and Mrs. Thurston broke her leg six months ago and has been unable to return to her job tending the gardens of elderly people.

“Oh, my goodness. It was just a complete, overwhelming relief,” Mrs. Thurston said. “It’s been two-and-a-half years that this has been hanging over my sister and myself.”

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