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As many Americans still wait for their stimulus check, a number of deceased people have received payments.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R.-Ky., shared a story of a friend receiving a stimulus check meant for his deceased father, and he said he thought coronavirus checks being sent to dead people was just the “tip of the iceberg” of waste in the massive $2.2 trillion stimulus package.
While the extra cash may seem like a lucky bonus, families of the deceased are left wondering: do I need to pay it back?
What does the IRS say you should do?
The IRS has added guidelines to its website for payments made to the deceased saying they should be returned by submitting a personal check to the state’s IRS location payable to “U.S. Treasury,” complete with the taxpayer ID number of the deceased and the reason for returning the check.
President Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have also said those payments should be returned.
"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."
What happens if I don't?
It's not clear whether recipients are under any legal obligation to return the money. The CARES Act, which authorized the payments, did not include any language forbidding payments to the deceased or how to get back money given to the dead.
Back in 2009, the Obama administration sent about 89,000 checks worth $250 each to dead and incarcerated people as part of the stimulus package meant to combat The Great Recession, according to The Atlantic, so Congress could have included such a stipulation against payments to the deceased this time around.
AARP recommends holding on to the money until the IRS resolves the issue.
Nina Olson, executive director of the Center for Taxpayer Rights, told AARP that there is a provision in tax law for repayment of an erroneous tax refund, but “I don't know of any attorney general in the world who would bring an erroneous refund suit for $1,200.”
Under the CARES Act, Americans receive stimulus checks based on their tax returns for 2018 and 2019. If a person died after filing a return in those years, they could still receive the check -- though the government says it must be returned.