Texas Judge Freezes Fallen Firefighter's Death Benefits

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WHARTON, Texas --

A judge ruled on Friday that no one involved in the case of a fallen Wharton firefighter can spend any money that has come in since his death.

Thomas and Nikki Araguz

Thomas Araguz III died while batting a fire at an egg farm in Boling, Texas, on July 3.

His family has squared off with his wife because they want to prevent her from receiving his benefits.

Araguz's family said his wife, Nikki, should not receive the death benefits because they claim she was born a male, which would make their marriage illegal.

Thomas Araguz's mother asked the judge to freeze the death benefits because she wants it for her 6- and 9-year-old grandsons.

"It turned out well. We're pleased. (This is important to the children) because it belongs to them," she said.

Nikke Araguz said she deserves half.

"My husband and I loved each other very much. And when all evidence is presented, the whole world will know," she said.

The Houston Fire Department's family assistance coordinator, who is helping the family, said the benefits are worth more than $600,000, and are to be split in half between the spouse and the children.

The judge ruled that all death benefits will be frozen and not released without his approval.

Nikki Araguz's parents said she suffers from rare birth defect called complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, where a person has all of the physical traits of female, but has no uterus. They acknowledge the birth certificate listed in the lawsuit is Nikki Araguz's and that she was born Justin Graham Purdue.

Thomas Araguz's parents said he found out about Nikki Araguz's past about two months before his death and the couple had separated.

"My husband knew the truth," Nikki Araguz said. "The whole truth about my health and medical situation."

Thomas Araguz's mother and ex-wife, Heather Delgado, have filed a lawsuit to dissolve his marriage to Nikki Araguz on the grounds that she was not female at birth so the marriage was never legal.

Thomas Araguz had two children with Delgado.

The money will be put into a trust until the legal battle is settled.

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