CBS 58 Special Report: Deceased Taxpayers & Stimulus Checks
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – Stimulus checks have been sent to dead people, again. Some payments are a result of bad timing, one source told CBS 58 Investigates a family member died the day before the check arrived. Other payments are being sent to estates and catching those families by surprise.
“He’s been dead now for 12 to 13 months,” said Betty Engibous.
She was stunned when she checked her mail on May 2 and found a check from the government made out to her deceased brother Don.
“We haven’t even received ours, and we’re alive,” said Engibous.
It’s unclear how many stimulus checks have been sent to the deceased. Centers for Disease Control data show 2.8 million people died in 2018. A number of viewers told CBS 58 Investigates their friends received checks for multiple loved ones. The checks were made out to the deceased with an executor listed below.
“They were very hasty,” said Engibous of the current stimulus law.
This is not the first time the government has sent checks to the dead. A 2010 audit of the Obama administration’s stimulus program found over 71,000 checks were sent to dead people, costing taxpayers $18 million. The audit recommended the government take back the money. The Social Security Administration agreed with the auditor's recommendation, but said the stimulus law did not give it any legal power to do so.
“The IRS at that time did not chase down people who did receive those payments,” said Tax Attorney Robert Teuber of von Briesen & Roper.
The CARES Act disqualifies the states or trusts. These stimulus checks were mailed in envelopes with a box to mark if the recipient is deceased, but a viewer told CBS 58 Investigates after marking the box and dropping it back in the mail, the check was returned to them. The IRS has now provided specific instructions on where to mail the payment back, and to write the government a check if a person has already cashed the check.
“If I’m receiving a payment from the government for them, it’s not my money, it’s not my money to do something with,” said Teuber.
Teuber said tax audits aren’t likely, but the IRS can come up with ways to get the money if the payments aren’t mailed back.
“It's a series of notices telling you to return the money,” said Teuber.
Engibous wanted to use the money to recoup some of the funeral expenses she paid for her brother. Instead, she’s not taking any risks and has dropped the check back in the mail.
“In order not to incur any kind of penalties or financial setbacks from the IRS, that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” said Engibous.
Wisconsin residents need to mail their check to:
Fresno Internal Revenue Service
5045 E Butler Ave.
Fresno, CA 93888
For a complete list see question 41 on the IRS frequently asked questions page.