Does My Mother Have to Pay the State Back for AFDC if She Never Received Child Support?

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“My Mother just recently found out that she will be inheriting 1/5 of her recently deceased mother’s estate which is in probate right now.

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There was an inquiry by a fraud investigator to her name as roughly 20 years ago she received AFDC for myself and 2 sisters for about 3 years as my Father did not pay child support. The inquiry was to find out the amount she was entitled to as they now want my Mother to pay the State of Wisconsin back for receiving AFDC. My Mother never did receive any child support from my father at this time and has never received any notification of her obligation to pay this assistance back at any point, not even them taking her tax returns. Isn’t my father liable to pay this back to the state?”

If collectible, your Father is absolutely liable for any unpaid amounts, but so might be your mother. Both may still bear liability if there was any fraud. It seems that the State may have at least 10 years or more (and I have heard of 20 years [and this issue is apparently before the Wisconsin Courts], and also non-dischargeable in some states) to try to recoup past public assistatnce. Wisconsin Statute 49.195 Recovery of aid to families with dependent children and Wisconsin works benefits provides:

(1) If any parent at the time of receiving aid under s. 49.19 or a benefit under s. 49.148, 49.155 or 49.157 or at any time thereafter acquires property by gift, inheritance, sale of assets, court judgment or settlement of any damage claim, or by winning a lottery or prize, the county granting such aid, or the Wisconsin works agency granting such a benefit, may sue the parent on behalf of the department to recover the value of that portion of the aid or of the benefit which does not exceed the amount of the property so acquired. The value of the aid or benefit liable for recovery under this section may not include the value of work performed by a member of the family in a community work experience program under s. 46.215 (1) (o), 1991 stats., s. 46.22 (1) (b) 11., 1991 stats., or s. 49.50 (7j) (d), 1991 stats., or in a community work experience component under s. 49.193 (6), 1997 stats. During the life of the parent, the 10-year statute of limitations may be pleaded in defense against any suit for recovery under this section; and if such property is his or her homestead it shall be exempt from execution on the judgment of recovery until his or her death or sale of the property, whichever occurs first. Notwithstanding the foregoing restrictions and limitations, where the aid or benefit recipient is deceased a claim may be filed against any property in his or her estate and the statute of limitations specified in s. 859.02 shall be exclusively applicable. The court may refuse to render judgment or allow the claim in any case where a parent, spouse or child is dependent on the property for support, and the court in rendering judgment shall take into account the current family budget requirement as fixed by the U.S. department of labor for the community or as fixed by the authorities of the community in charge of public assistance. The records of aid or benefits paid kept by the county, by the department or by the Wisconsin works agency are prima facie evidence of the value of the aid or benefits furnished. Liability under this section shall extend to any parent or stepparent whose family receives aid under s. 49.19 or benefits under s. 49.148, 49.155 or 49.157 during the period that he or she is a member of the same household, but his or her liability is limited to such period. This section does not apply to medical and health assistance payments for which recovery is prohibited or restricted by federal law or regulation.

Though there may be joint liability between your parents, it seems that the Wisconsin works agency can maintain an action for prior payments against an inheritence, and at least for 10 years. It might be wise to consult with a local attorney.

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Author: House Attorney

A house attorney has answered this question.

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