Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Widow Takes Feds to Appeals Tribunal over CPP Benefits Denial Due to Her Age

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Widow Takes Feds to Appeals Tribunal over CPP Benefits Denial Due to Her Age

Article excerpt

Widow fights feds over CPP benefits denial

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OTTAWA - Daniel Derksen was, by all accounts, the model of perfect health.

Then one day, he complained about stomach pains and went to see a doctor. Four months later, he died, the result of an aggressive cancerous tumour that didn't respond to chemotherapy, radiation or multiple surgeries.

He was just 38.

His wife of 11 years, Jilian, was denied survivor benefits through the Canada Pension Plan. She is now challenging the rule to the federal government's final appeals body, the social security tribunal, arguing it is based on faulty logic.

Anyone under age 35 who loses a spouse only receives CPP survivor benefits if they have children or a disability. Jilian, who was 10 weeks shy of her 35th birthday when Derksen died, has neither.

Instead, she will have to wait 30 years to collect his benefits -- 60 per cent of what he'd have been eligible for in retirement, adjusted for inflation from date of death -- even though she needs the money now.

Jilian had to cover $20,000 in funeral costs. Derksen had no life insurance nor work benefits; he'd been off work shortly before his illness, the result of a car accident. Nor did the couple have mortgage insurance.

"I had to sell my home that he built for us," she said. "That was our dream home that we built together, and I had to lose that too, on top of everything."

The age rule is in place because a survivor with no children or disability ought to be able to adapt financially to the loss of their partner by going back to work, the government argues. The survivor's pension, by design, provides increased benefits to those deemed least able to recover financially.

A 2004 Statistics Canada research paper found that in the year after a husband's death, widows in higher income brackets saw sharper declines in their household income, but cautioned that "over the longer term, their situation could be quite different."

Experts contacted for this story couldn't point to any definitive data to suggest that younger widowers do better financially over time.

When finance ministers agreed last year to changes to the CPP, they amended the way survivor benefits are calculated, but not the age requirements. …

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