There have been multiple reports in recent weeks about people arrested and indicted, or pleading guilty to, fraud crimes related to Social Security.
One frequent occurrence is for people to continue to collect Social Security benefits of a deceased parent or other relative, after not informing the Social Security Administration that the relative has in fact passed away.
What should you do if you never informed the government that your relative has died? That was the subject of a recent advice column.
In a column published this week on NJ.com, the letter writer said they were in a situation in which they did not inform the government of their parent’s death-although there is no indication that the letter writer actually stole benefits.
“My mom passed away 10 years ago. I recently realized that in all of my mindlessness in that time, I never reported her death to the IRS or Social Security. It simply fell off my radar. How bad will the consequences be?,” the letter writer to the NJ Money Help column asked.
“This could be a problem,” the author of the column asked, mostly referencing the tax and IRS implications of not reporting.
“You said you never reported your mother’s death to various institutions.
We’re going to assume you were the person authorized to act on behalf of the estate either as the executor if there was a will, or as an administrator if there was no will.”
The column also quoted a New Jersey estate attorney named Tom Szieber, who recommended that the writer consult with an attorney over whether they face any liability.
“Debts to the United States government take priority over other debts of the estate and the interests of estate beneficiaries,” Szieber told the column. “As a result, if the questioner’s mother’s estate owed any estate, gift or income taxes to the IRS and the questioner had already distributed the estate’s available funds to beneficiaries or other creditors, he or she would be personally liable for the IRS debt to the extent he or she is not able to recover from the beneficiaries sufficient assets to satisfy the liabilities.”
Szieber also addressed the Social Security implications of the letter writer’s predicament.
“Funeral homes or morgues will sometimes do so, but it is prudent for an executor or administrator to contact the SSA to be certain it has been notified,” the lawyer told NJ.com. “Any Social Security payments issued to the questioner’s mother subsequent to the mother’s date of death — other than benefits to which a surviving spouse and/or minor children are entitled — would need to be returned.”
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.