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Benbrook widow sues Fort Worth fund for husband's pension benefits

08/24/2012 11:35 PM

08/25/2012 6:34 AM

When So Son Harabedoff's husband died last year, she thought she would receive his pension from the Fort Worth Employees' Retirement Fund.

Harabedoff, 73, was counting on the income to pay her mortgage and other bills because she receives only $150 in monthly Social Security benefits.

But when Harabedoff applied for the benefits last fall, the fund told her that she isn't eligible because her husband, a former street department employee who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, neglected to tell the pension fund about the marriage.

"When Larry died, I thought I would receive his benefits," she said. "I went to the office, and a supervisor told me Larry, the deceased person, should have reported the marriage and signed the papers. We have no record of your marriage."

Worried that she won't be able to pay the mortgage on her Benbrook home, Harabedoff is suing the retirement fund in Tarrant County civil court in hopes of getting the $1,900 in monthly benefits. The suit was filed in July.

Doreen McGookey, the attorney for the retirement fund, filed an answer in court stating that Harabedoff "failed to state a claim for relief." McGookey also wrote that the pension fund was formed under the city charter and should be granted immunity from lawsuits and liability.

Ruth Ryerson, the fund's executive director, said in an e-mail to the Star-Telegram that Harabedoff did receive $5,000 in death and burial benefits. Otherwise, she could not comment on pending litigation.

"The Retirement Fund Board is unable to act outside the City Ordinance and Administrative Rules," Ryerson wrote.

Odd circumstances

So Son Harabedoff, who emigrated from Korea in the 1970s, lived next to Larry. She worked as a cook and a maid at the former Green Oaks Inn and eventually began cleaning Larry's home. They started dating and over time fell in love.

When they exchanged vows in Las Vegas over 13 years ago, it was the second marriage for both.

She didn't know about her husband's mental illness.

"He was a normal man. We married in 1998," Harabedoff said. "After six months, he started getting sick. I didn't know what was going on; I didn't know he had a disease."

She contacted her husband's children and learned that he suffered from mental illness.

As Larry Harabedoff's condition worsened, she stopped working outside the home and took care of him full time.

Her husband died Aug. 6, 2011. The cause of death could not be learned Friday.

Incomplete paperwork

Her attorney, Don Chae, said Larry Harabedoff wasn't able to complete the necessary paperwork for the pension fund because of paranoid schizophrenia.

Chae said he provided documentation to the pension fund on Larry Harabedoff's mental condition. As a result, Chae told the pension board, So Son Harabedoff is entitled to 75 percent of her husband's death benefits.

"It was impossible for Larry to give such a notice because of his condition," Chae said.

Chae said So Son Harabedoff contributed little to Social Security because she didn't work much outside the home. So Son Harabedoff is facing the possibility of having to sell her home.

She pays $541 in monthly mortgage payments from a $20,000 life insurance policy, but the money is running out.

A friend, Margie Garner, has been staying with her to help with bills and deal with the mortgage company.

"She just can't get her mind around this," Garner said.

Elizabeth Campbell,

817-390-7696

Twitter: @fwstliz

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