I am helping a friend with some financial advice, but his situation is very unique. His mother (US Citizen) married a foreign national.

  • He worked all his life as a merchant or in a restaurant he owned in a US State, but there are no records of social security being paid by him.
  • She never worked.
  • he passed away 17 years ago, so she had to start working. Doing beauty sales for Mary Kay or working with family - She worked for 8 years, receiving cash from her family, but never paying social security.
  • now she is on age of retirement but there is no social security being recorded.
  • my friend, whom I am trying to help, is broke.
  • the state provides the basic welfare benefit, but that is barely enough

What are his options? Is there any type of insurance against these type of situations. Why is this allowed to happen?

  • 14
    You're basically saying "My mother didn't pay her taxes, can she have some more of the taxpayers' money now because what she's getting is not enough?"? I understand the situation, and I do sympathize, but come on... You're really asking "Why is this allowed to happen"? And I'm the liberal around here...
    – littleadv
    Jan 6, 2012 at 3:45
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    @littleadv - I am of the same mentality. My comment of why is this allowed to happen? was in reference of how people working in a state can forgo paying Social Security, not how is not covered. - When he explained the situation my first thought was this is not possible. How can you own a restaurant, pay employees, and never pay social security? I am trying to see if with anyone's knowledge here I can direct him to a place that he can verify that either his parent paid SS at some point.
    – Geo
    Jan 6, 2012 at 13:22
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    The trouble is that cash businesses make it a lot easier to hide taxable income. Also, foreign nationals also have ways of hiding money in foreign bank accounts to help avoid suspicion of tax evasion. BTW: Your friend should be able to just contact the SS office and ask if they can find a record of payments based on their names.
    – JohnFx
    Jan 6, 2012 at 16:32
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    In other words, if your friend's father was self-employed in the US and never paid social security then he committed fraud. You might want to find out whether he paid taxes in that period. But you also might not, because it's conceivable that the government might try to collect back taxes. Jan 6, 2012 at 17:32

4 Answers 4


Wow. She really is in a pickle. Even though I can intellectualize that she ought have paid more attention to her family's finances, and assuming she wasn't complicit in her husband's obvious tax evasion, I can sympathize to some extent.

This is a great demonstration of how dangerous it is to just let your spouse handle all the finances because they understand the money stuff. Even if they pay the bills you should have at least a fundamental understanding of the taxes being paid, estate and retirement plans.

So here's some practical advice based on the hole she has dug for herself:

  1. If she owns a home she might want to consider a reverse mortgage to generate some income.
  2. Again, if she owns a home, she might consider moving to a much cheaper home (or moving in with the son) and investing the proceeds in an immediate annuity to create a reliable income stream.
  3. Let's face it, she is likely going to have to work until she is physically unable to do so. Retirement is for people who planned ahead.Hopefully if she is still young enough to get 10 years in, and she starts paying SS taxes now she might live long enough to be eligible for a SS benefit.
  4. She might consider moving to a country with a much cheaper cost of living (perhaps the one her spouse was from) to stretch out the money she does have longer. Be careful about this though, she might not be able to get a job as a non-citizen of some countries.
  • +1 - I assumed their is no home or other savings and is unable to provide for herself since she is turning to her broke son. That may have been a bad assumption since she has a history of being irresponsible with her obligations to others. I guess it is possible she thinks her son owes her to provide for her despite having her own assets. I have known other people like this.
    – user4127
    Jan 6, 2012 at 17:29
  • Thanks @JohnFx - I did not consider the possibility of real estate assets. Her spouse could have an inheritance from his family back in his country. Your other options are good advice. Thanks.
    – Geo
    Jan 6, 2012 at 19:24
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    @Chad - In some cultures it is the norm for parents to live with the kids their entire lives. The OP said she was a citizen, but it is possible she was a naturalized citizen or still follows the customs of her family's culture.
    – JohnFx
    Jan 6, 2012 at 19:38
  • It's not just the husband. She herself worked for 8 years without paying any tax or social security. Jul 7, 2022 at 16:04

I am unsympathetic. His mother made a conscious choice to evade taxes that would have provided her with at least a minimal security when she was too old to work. First while as business owner she should have been paying self employment tax on the income they made through the restaurant and his other merchant activities. Second while working in her own career selling Mary Kay and side work she should have paid her taxes on her income from that.

There is a part of me that says good on you for getting by with out getting caught. But her ultimate failure was to plan for her future. She should have known she would be ineligible for SSI and saved for her retirement. Instead she choose to spend her money while benefiting from the government services that the rest of us pay taxes for. Now we will provide her with medicaid as well as welfare benefits. She has placed her son in the unenviable situation of having to either provide for his mother because she failed to do the minimum planning for herself or turn his back on her.

He might be able to find a sympathetic prosecutor who would prosecute her for tax evasion. The government would take care of her needs(food and housing) and she would get her medical care taken care of. He could also move to Alaska. The oil industry provide residents of Alaska with a stipend, there is lots of work for people willing to work hard, and the compensation for that work is pretty good and would likely put him in a position where he is able to provide care for his mother.

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    I think the OP was implying that the mother's spouse was doing the shenanigans by evading taxes, possibly without her knowledge. It isn't that uncommon for a non-working spouse to leave the finances up to the working spouse. If that is the case I'm at least somewhat sympathetic.
    – JohnFx
    Jan 6, 2012 at 16:24
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    @JohnFx - As I would be if when the mom started working on her own she had at least started paying her own. But in the end she had a responsibility to make sure that her taxes were paid. While I will concede that it is possible, I find it difficult to believe that she did not know they were not paying their SS taxes.
    – user4127
    Jan 6, 2012 at 17:25
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    OP clearly said "she never worked." I don't find it difficult to believe that she didn't know. I've met lots of people who were completely clueless about tax matters.
    – WGroleau
    Dec 10, 2016 at 3:40
  • Right below where OP says "she never worked" OP says "she had to start working". I can only assume OP meant "she never worked while her husband was alive". Jul 7, 2022 at 16:06

I'm not unsympathetic, but insurance of what kind? I don't know how he'd have owned a restaurant but failed to pay into the social security system. Was he paying taxes at all?

As for the 'why,' there's not enough checks and balances to make sure that nothing is done under the table. I believe 40 quarters of work would have qualified her for a benefit of some kind, but you say she didn't pay in either. Both people didn't pay into the system, either on purpose or by not understanding the need to do so. This is a sad situation.


SSI (Supplemental Security Income) is not based on work history. As a US citizen in poverty who is "aged (65+), blind or disabled," your friend's mother would qualify for SSI.

That said, she may already be receiving it while thinking it is the state welfare payment.

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