Coronavirus Florida: Man’s deceased mom got a stimulus check. He wants to return it, but how?
In the midst of settling his mother’s estate, Harry Freeland was surprised to find a $1,200 coronavirus stimulus check from the Internal Revenue Service deposited in her credit union account a little more than four months after she died.
“In her account was deposited by the great federal government a stimulus check, though she was deceased since December,” said Freeland, a 60-year-old retiree. “It doesn’t look like they are checking their rolls.”
The economic-relief law passed by Congress in March created a $292 billion program of payments to Americans to ease the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak. The government has made more than 89 million payments totaling over $160 billion, with another wave hitting bank accounts and mailboxes this week.
Some of those payments have been going to dead people, though it’s unclear how many payments the Treasury Department has sent to deceased taxpayers or what the Internal Revenue Service will do to reclaim those payments.
In Port Orange, Freeland isn’t sure what to do about returning the money.
“My sister in Pennsylanvia said she had heard about it happening to someone up there, but I hadn’t heard anything about it,” he said. “I’ve talked with my lawyer and I’m waiting to see what happens with that.”
The IRS check was deposited in his mother’s credit union account in Corning, New York, on April 15, Freeland said. His mother, Sylvia Brown, died on Dec. 12 at age 82, he said.
“I know Social Security was notified of her death back in December,” Freeland said. “It’s confusing to me that nobody (at the IRS) checked that.
“Obviously, they are giving money to almost anybody, I guess. I’d like to get a hold of the IRS to find out what’s going on with this, why they are not better stewards of our money.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin this week said that deceased people aren’t eligible for stimulus payments and that the money should be paid back to the government.
“You’re not supposed to keep that payment,” Mnuchin said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “We’re checking the databases, but there could be a scenario where we missed something, and yes, the heirs should be returning that money.”
According to the law, the stimulus payment is a new tax credit for tax year 2020 of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child. Payments are based on 2018 or 2019 tax filings and estates are ineligible under the law.
But because the payment is based on past tax returns, some who died in 2018 or 2019 have received money either by direct deposit or by mail. The IRS hasn’t yet offered written guidance to taxpayers on what to do in such cases.
Guidance from the IRS on how that process would work is expected soon, said Allison Nielsen, senior adviser and communications director for U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz.
“We have heard about this type of situation and while we haven’t seen an overwhelming number of these instances, we have had a few in our district,” Nielsen said. “The IRS is aware of this issue and will be providing guidance on the next steps soon.
“In the meantime, Congressman Waltz’s office is actively working with our constituents to relay their concerns and work with the IRS on a resolution as quickly as possible.”
For now, survivors such as Freeland must decide what to do about the payments.
“I’d like to see something about what people need to do, so they don’t get into trouble with this,” Freeland said. “We were just lucky because we happened to be checking that bank account. Some people might not realize that it has happened and they might get in trouble.”
This story originally published to news-journalonline.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.