IRS is sending stimulus payments to dead people

SEATTLE -- While millions of eligible Americans are still waiting for their economic stimulus payments from the federal government, many who are not eligible have been cut a check, including people who died as early as 2018.

For most Americans, the response to receiving $1,200 in coronavirus relief money is just that, relief.

But for others, it's puzzling when it's addressed to a dead loved one.

"I was stunned because it says that she's getting her stimulus money, $1,200, to direct deposit," said Q13's own M.J. McDermott, showing a letter she received from the White House. "They apparently know she's gone because it has her name 'Decd,' which I think is deceased."

McDermott's mother, Genevieve King, passed away in 2018 at age 92.

The letter was addressed to King and sent to McDermott's Washington home, though McDermott said her mother spent her final years in Texas, making the delivery even more confusing.

She said the family properly notified the federal government of her passing at the time and there's no active account to receive a direct deposit.

She wonders if the government plans to send her a physical check and if so, what she's supposed to do with it.

"It seems like someone was in the office hitting 'Control Pay' everybody, everyone just gets paid," Seattle tax accountant Kurt Romischer said. "The problem we run into is we have people that are deceased that are getting $1,200."

The federal government based stimulus payments on tax returns from 2018 and 2019, so people who passed away in those years would still likely have tax information on file.

In repeated requests, the Treasury Department would not confirm how many people who are deceased received stimulus payments or if there was anything in place to catch checks from going out to people marked deceased, like King.

In April, President Donald Trump had said that in a rush to send out as much money as quick as possible, "a tiny amount of mistakes" were made.

"We'll get that back," Trump said of the money. "Everything we're going to get back."

After repeated inquiries, on Wednesday the Treasury Department told Q13 News that heirs should send back the money and gave guidance on where to send it. But a spokesperson would not answer whether there would be legal consequences for failing to return it.

Accountants, at least for now, are also in the dark.

"We just need someone at the to really tell us what is the fine print, what is going to happen," Romischer said.

When millions of dollars in economic recovery payments were sent to dead people back in 2009, an inspector general audit found in a sampling that just half of the payments were returned.

Romischer said then, people weren't legally required to return the $250 payment, which is why this would be his advice to clients in this position now, like surviving spouses who received $2,400 instead of $1,200:

"Keep it, but don't just think that it's completely free and clear," he said. "At the end of the year we'll find out what to do with it."

McDermott has not received a physical payment for her mother, just the letter for now. She said if she does get a check, she'll "mail it back to the federal government and inform them again of her demise."

But she said she knows of at least two other people, surviving spouses, who received extra money and do not plan to return it.

"It's a time when people really need money and I hope this money my mom is supposed to get goes to someone who can use it," she said.

As of April 17, the IRS had sent out more than 89 million payments worth more than $160 billion. The president said significantly less than 1 percent of the payments include mistakes.

Other ineligible recipients the IRS is asking to return checks include those who are currently incarcerated and people who are not U.S. citizens and do not have a green card.