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IRS says stimulus payments sent to dead people have to be returned

Surviving spouses of joint filers asked to return portion of stimulus payment

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File photo (Jeff Fusco/Getty Images)

SAN ANTONIO – The IRS sent $1,200 checks to millions of Americans as part of a stimulus relief package to help people impacted by the coronavirus pandemic but while some people are still waiting on their money, some dead people are getting paid.

People reported seeing stimulus payments in the bank accounts of their deceased loved ones, according to reports from several news outlets, but it remained unclear if that money needed to be returned - until now.

“A Payment made to someone who died before receipt of the Payment should be returned to the IRS,” according to IRS.gov. The IRS website also lists instructions on what to do if you need to send money back.

“Payments have gone out to surviving spouses and to bank accounts that relatives kept open to settle a dead loved one’s estate,” the Washington Post reported.

The entire payment must be returned to the IRS “unless the payment was made to joint filers and one spouse had not died before receipt of the payment, in which case, you only need to return the portion of the payment made on account of the decedent,” the IRS website states.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) shared a screenshot to Twitter of a conversation between himself and a friend who said his father received a $1,200 stimulus check even though he died in 2018.

Stimulus checks were sent to people based on federal tax returns from 2018 or 2019, and some people who filed taxes for those years have since died.

The IRS does not have real-time data available for deaths, according to Politico, and records lag as data is passed from states to the federal government.

The White House released a synopsis of remarks made by President Trump in a coronavirus task force press briefing on April 17 regarding the issue and Trump said, “Anything - anything that was sent out - it’s like, sometimes you send a check to somebody wrong. Sometimes people are listed, they die, and they get a check. That can happen... We’ll get that back."

Nina Olson, former head of the Taxpayer Advocate Service, told Market Watch on April 18 that the “CARES Act stimulus bill contained no 'clawback’ provisions for stimulus checks sent to a dead person, meaning the agency can’t retrieve the money after it’s been handed out.”

“This has been a tremendous success. And any mistake that was made, they’ve been caught. And it’s less than 1 percent. That’s a very good percentage. I can tell you, for government,” Trump said in the briefing.

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new virus, stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease first appeared in late December 2019 in Wuhan, China, but spread around the world in early 2020, causing the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic in March. The first case confirmed in the U.S. was in mid-January and the first case confirmed in San Antonio was in mid-February.

*Editor’s Note: This story was edited with the update that the IRS says the checks need to be returned

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