REDUX–First Your Home…Now Your Pension?

My article of September 21, 2010 regarding pension overpayment recoveries produced several e-mail responses and inquiries, particularly concerning the 76 year old female Alzheimer’s patient who had been receiving a pension for 11 years.

I can now provide a few additional facts.

The pension in question started with a 1999 letter from the employer’s pension administrator that opened with, “This will confirm that you are entitled to receive a vested accrued benefit under the…Plan in the amount of $… per month…for your lifetime.” Then, as I reported previously, on September 17th of this year, she received a letter from the bank currently administering the pension advising that she had been overpaid and they were asking her to repay $42,814.42.

The bank in question is Wells Fargo. To be precise, the letter came from Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust in Minneapolis, MN. Wells Fargo recently took over administration of the pension after acquiring Wachovia. The underlying pension is an employer plan subject to the rules and regulations of  ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act).

The pensioner’s 81-year-old husband, as Power of Attorney, has filed an appeal of the decision in accordance with ERISA.  In addition, he has contacted an attorney familiar with this area of the law.

I also became aware of an advocacy group for pension rights and I am including a portion of a recent e-mail from that organization:

“Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.  As you may have seen in the Wall Street Journal article you mentioned in your blog, we work in conjunction with several legal assistance projects across the country.  The lead attorney for the Western States Pension Assistance Project was also quoted in that article.  This project, with funding from the U.S. Administration on Aging (AOA), provides free pension assistance to individuals who live in California (among several other states).”

Pension Rights Center in Washington, DC (

That’s all for now. I will keep you up to date as circumstances warrant.


First Your Home…Now Your Pension?

You can’t trust anyone or anything…

Except for my landscaper and my computer guru, this is my motto.

The front page article in last Sunday’s Press Democrat, System stymies mortgage fix simply reinforces my world view when it comes to banks and other financial institutions and their recent mortgage practices.

But for those who may not have mortgage woes, take no comfort.  You, too, may soon be subjected to the whims of financial institutions and insurance companies in other aspects of your life.

Consider this story from somewhere in Northern California as it may apply to you or someone you know…


You are retired. Note

You’re collecting your pension….perhaps for many years. Red rose

Then, one day you get a letter from the institution paying your pension saying: “Oops! So sorry, we miscalculated and have been overpaying you. Please forward $42,814.42 within 10 days.”  Storm cloud

Impossible, you think. Unfortunately, such tactics are becoming a common practice. Wilted rose

In a current local case, a 76 year old pensioner had been receiving a pension for 11 years until presented with an overnight letter on September 17, 2010, advising that she had been overpaid and she had 10 days to accept the repayment terms outlined in the letter.  What really adds spice to the story is that the pensioner is an advanced Alzheimer’s patient in an assisted living facility.  There are a lot of other very “interesting” facts associated with the story. I am holding them back until it matures further…also in the hope that the bank comes to its senses and I can drop it.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an excellent article detailing this new phenomenon of recalculating pensions and how some people are fighting back.  I recommend it to you. In fact, if you are currently receiving a pension, it is essential that you read it.  Click on ‘Overpaid’ Pensions Being Seized.

There are ways of resisting such claims for repayment. However, one needs to hire a lawyer familiar with ERISA (The Employee Retirement Income Security Act) and benefits law to negotiate and litigate.  In many instances, the pensioner can rightly claim equitable estoppel if they can prove that it was reasonable for them to rely upon the original representation of their pension amount.  

There are no guarantees, and frankly, I suspect many people will not realize that they need legal assistance, much less have the resources to hire a lawyer.  Notwithstanding, I think that lawyers may stand in line to take this one on…

Stay tuned…

Point Reyes Station…Truth In Advertising!

In these days of exaggerated and misleading claims for products and services–advertising, if you will–it is rare to find a company that is clear about its product and does not sugar coat it in any fashion.  This sign on the side of Toby’s Feed Barn in Point Reyes Station, CA sets a new standard for honesty and truth in advertising…

If the above is not clear enough, consider the product…

There is absolutely no doubt as to the nature of the product—and its purpose.

Perhaps this will set a trend for other businesses. 

Just think!

  • What if banks and loan companies were just as candid about their mortgage and consumer loans?
  • What if cell phone companies wrote their service contracts in no-nonsense language similar to that of Double Doody Cow/Horse Manure?

I know, I know.  Too much to hope for…

St. James…Garden Harvest

The St. James Community Garden continues to thrive.  I happened to catch a few scenes from the workday last Sunday, September 12. The produce goes to the many food banks and volunteer kitchens.  On Sunday, some of the produce was also available for sale to raise money for the garden. 

But enough words.  I’ll let the photos tell the story.

The next three photos are “multi-motion capture” photos attempting to create the illusion of movement by combining several photos into one frame…

Sometimes the motion illusion can be a little spooky…

 Returning to more tradtional photo formats…

For a related “still life” photo, go to The Gardener’s Boots…

Petaluma’s Wine Instituto Goes To A Party!


Labor Day Weekend was also Sonoma Wine Country Weekend. Many events were scheduled, including several “winemaker” lunches and dinners at various wineries as well as a charity wine auction. The wine auction is an important fundraiser for many local charities–the Redwood Empire Food Bank, Vineyard Worker Services, Hanna Boys Center, Community Health Center, and others.

For some unexplained reason–certainly a clerical error–the Internationale Instituo De Vino Wino (Petaluma’s famous but fictional wine institute) was invited to send two representatives to the winemaker dinner St. Francis Vineyard and Winery:

An evening spent at St. Francis Vineyard and Winery not only allows you a chance to mingle with our 2010 Sonoma Wine Country Weekend Honorary Chairs, but also promises an unforgettable experience in the very heart of Sonoma Wine Country. Join Winemaker, Tom Mackey and President, Christopher Silva at “People’s Park,” a lovely location on the winery grounds with breathtaking views of the vineyard, for a luau-style feast prepared by Piper Johnson and paired with artisan series, small production and handcrafted wines.”

Needless to say, the invitation caused quite a stir at the Intituto! As the invitation was for only two people, there was quite a fight (fictional people are just as difficult to manage as real people) as to who would be allowed to attend. In addition, approval had to be obtained from the parole officers for those selected.

This is their story…

After considerable fuss, Food Director, Sushi Tira-Misu and Senior Citizen Wine Consultant, Jerry Attrick were chosen to attend as representatives of the Instituto.  To be perfectly candid, the primary reason for selecting these two was that they were deemed to be the most presentable.

Sushi and Jerry showed up on time (a rare achievement for them) armed with the tickets and e-mail from Chris Silva of St. Francis Vineyard & Winery:

“Welcome to Sonoma County, this unique place of farmers who make wine…We are honored to be selected as Honorary Chair for 2010.  Our dinner…will be our first official celebration as Chair. We’ll enjoy an imaginative menu paired with our favorite Artisan wines, all from 100% hand-picked, Sonoma County grapes, plus a guest list of friends both old and new—as well as a special guest or two to add to the many stories.  We will also offer several small, informal tours of our cellar and barrel room while you are here. “

Sushi & Jerry were extremely impressed with the beautiful setting… 

They also took note of the fact that St. Francis provided additional security given the presence of two fictional representatives of the Internationale Instituto De Vino Wino…

Security notwithstanding, the Instituto representatives fully enjoyed themselves…conversed with their fellow attendees… sampled the wine…and the food…Oh, the food…

For the record, the Instituto recruited Al Fresco, the Instituto’s Restaurant Manager to serve as the designated driver. Al had to stay with the car the entire evening comforted only with a thermos of coffee and a week old newspaper.

Jerry Attrick was particularly impressed with the St. Francis winery tour and noted that the operation was considerably larger than the Solo Vine facility at the Instituto…

After seeing this facility, Jerry is going to recommend that the Instituto plant a second vine!

The Computer Lady…A New Computa!

After eight years, we decided it was time to trade in our XP Machine for a new computa.

It was finally time to move on from the old CRT monitor that served us well; however, the computer was becoming ever more troublesome to work with–particularly with photos.

Fortunately, we had worked with Arianne Eskew of Arianne’s Computer Service before in keeping our old machine running.  She was a tremendous help in guiding us on the specifications for the new installation.  Frankly, she saved us quite a bit by keeping me from overbuying–something I am prone to do given my general ignorance of all the changes in technology.

The boxes arrived and Arianne set up the machine in quick order.  What can I say? She did in minutes what I would have taken hours to pull off.  She also saved me exercising the darker side of my vocabulary… 

By the bye, the sign on the side of her car gives you an indication that she has a sense of humor.

On her web site she proclaims: “There’s nothing a good hammer can’t fix!”  If nothing else, check out her web page for more background…Arianne’s Computer Service

Arianne’s focuses on home and small business computer needs and service. Her service area covers a fairly large chunk of Sonoma and Northern Marin Counties–from Healdsburg to Novato and from Sebastopol to Sonoma and all points in between.