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What should you do if you received a stimulus check made out to someone who is deceased?

June 26, 2020, 9:00 AM UTC

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The dearly departed were not excluded from the federal government’s stimulus check spending spree—far from it.

The Internal Revenue Service sent out more than 1 million stimulus payments, totaling nearly $1.4 billion, to deceased Americans as part of its coronavirus aid package, according to a report released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office.

The watchdog agency’s report, which evaluates the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, notes that the IRS and Treasury Department “faced difficulties” both in delivering payments to some Americans and denying them to others who were ineligible, such as the deceased.

As a result, the agencies made stimulus payments to deceased recipients during the “first three batches” of disbursements that went out this spring. Those disbursements accounted for 72% of the total payments handed out as of May 31. 

The GAO cited administrative issues as the cause of the oversight. It pointed to the IRS’s “legal determination” of who was eligible for the payments, as well as the Treasury Department’s lack of access to Social Security Administration death records typically used by the IRS “to detect and prevent erroneous and fraudulent tax refund claims.”

As a solution, the GAO suggested that Congress amend the Social Security Act to “allow the SSA to share its full death data with Treasury” in future, in order to “help reduce similar types of improper payments in other circumstances.”

The IRS indicated in May that stimulus payments made to deceased individuals should be returned to the government. The IRS has provided information on how to return an “Economic Impact Payment,” as it’s known, on its website.

However, the agency “does not currently plan to take additional steps” to retrieve those payments, according to the GAO report. The $1.4 billion distributed to deceased Americans represents a small portion of the $269 billion disbursed overall by the government across more than 160 million stimulus payments.

Meanwhile, the IRS has reportedly recruited state officials to help it retrieve stimulus payments made to incarcerated individuals, according to the Associated Press, despite no clear legal basis that it has a right to do so.

Questions over the government’s management of the Economic Impact Payments come as lawmakers consider additional stimulus measures that could see more direct payments made to Americans. President Trump is reportedly in favor of additional stimulus payments, believing they would bolster a U.S. economy still badly damaged by the coronavirus pandemic in advance of this fall’s presidential election.