Good morning Lucia,
Based on the facts that you have provided me thus far, I can accurately speculate what the remaining facts are, and unfortunately, there is a very good chance that this is not a scam.
Under the CalPERS retirement system, an employee may choose from several different retirement packages. There is a 100% Beneficiary Option, a 75% Beneficiary Option and a 50% Beneficiary Option. The lower the percentage chosen, the greater the pension payment is made to the employee while they are living. However, except for the 100% Beneficiary Option, on the death of the retired employee, their surviving spouse is entitled to only 75% or perhaps even 50% of the original pension payment as their continuing survivor benefit.
No presuming that it was your mother who was the employee with the CalPERS pension, when she passed, your father should have notified CalPERS of the death. At that point, unless your mother has chosen the 100% Beneficiary Option, your dad's monthly payment would have dropped to either 75% or 50% of the previous benefit payment.
When, for whatever reason CalPERS didn’t get the information into their system, the payment did not decrease and that created an overpayment situation. Under the laws of the state of CA, the CalPERS program is allowed to seek to collect overpayments made by the program. However, and very fortunately for your father, there is a statute of limitations on how far back the program may go to collect overpayments.
I was concerned when you initially wrote that they were seeking 39 months of overpayment, because that did not conform to the law. The Statute of Limitations under CA law is 3 years---which is 36 months---which you seem to have corrected when you wrote back recently.
So, what you say does make perfect sense, and it will be valid, if it was your mother who had the pension and named your father as the Beneficiary.
Here is a link to a discussion of the CalPERS program and the Pre-Retirement Election of Options that resulted in the overpayment after your mother died: https://forms.calstrs.com/CalSTRSOnlineFormRequestWebUI/Root/Pages/OpenAttachment.aspx?FormId=2cbd432f-bdb3-4996-b89d-3d3594dade87
And as for the time period in which CalPERS is allowed to seek a refund of any overpayment, here is that law:
Government Code section 20164 provides:
"(a) The obligations of this system to its members continue throughout their
respective memberships, and the obligations of this system to and in respect to
retired members continue throughout the lives of the respective retired members,
and thereafter until all obligations to their respective beneficiaries under optional
settlements have been discharged. The obligations of the state and contracting
agencies to this system in respect to members employed by them, respectively,
continue until all of the obligations of this system in respect to those retired members,
respectively, have been discharged. The obligations of any member to this system
continue throughout his or her membership, and thereafter until all of the obligations
of this system to or in respect to him or her have been discharged.
(b) For the purposes of payments into or out of the retirement fund for adjustment of
errors or omissions, whether pursuant to Section 20160, 20163, or 20532, or
otherwise, the period of limitation of actions shall be Three years, and shall be
applied as follows:
(1) In cases where this system makes an erroneous payment to a
member or beneficiary, this system's right to collect shall expire three
years from the date of payment.
(2) In cases where this system owes money to a member or
beneficiary, the period of limitations shall not apply.
(3) In cases where payment is erroneous because of the death of the
retired member or beneficiary or because of the remarriage of the
beneficiary, the period of limitation shall commence with the discovery
of the erroneous payment.
(c) Notwithstanding subdivision (b), where any payment has been made as a result
of fraudulent reports for compensation made, or caused to be made, by a member
for his or her own benefit, the period of limitation shall be 10 years and that period
shall commence either from the date of payment or upon discovery of the fraudulent
reporting, whichever date is later.
(d) The board shall determine the applicability of the period of limitations in any
case, and its determination with respect to the running of any period of limitation
shall be conclusive and binding for purposes of correcting the error or omission."
And finally, here is a link to a case in which THE BOARD OF ADMINISTRATION
CALIFORNIA PUBLIC EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM confirms this 3 year statute of limitations:
If you are able to get a Power of Attorney signed by your father, I suspect that the folks over at CalPERS may speak with you and provide you with documentation concerning the original Election of Options and the Beneficiary percentage your father is entitled to under that election. They might even speak with you over the phone now, but I doubt they would be willing to provide you documentation without that Power of Attorney.
You may reply back to me using the Continue the Conversation or Reply to Expert link if you need any clarification of my answer.
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I wish you the best in 2013,