The federal coronavirus relief bill has sent direct emergency payments to some 150 million Americans in the wake of the pandemic. Among the recipients are possibly millions of deceased individuals, raising questions about what their survivors should do with the money. After weeks of silence, the IRS has finally confirmed that the money must be returned and explained how to do it.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law March 27, 2020, included one-time payments of up to $1,200 to millions of eligible individuals, based on their income. To determine who was eligible, the IRS looked at 2018 and 2019 tax returns, without first cross-checking with the Social Security Administration’s master file of U.S. deaths, which apparently would have taken two weeks.
As a result, some individuals who passed away after filing 2018 or 2019 taxes have been receiving relief payments, causing confusion for their families. According to the Center for Disease Control and Protection, 2.8 million people died in 2018, which means the IRS potentially could have sent out millions of checks to deceased individuals. Although Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the money had to be returned, the IRS was slow to explain how exactly to go about doing that.
The IRS has now issued guidance, clarifying that the money must be returned. According to the agency, the full amount of the payment sent to a deceased individual should be returned unless there is a surviving spouse. In that case, only the deceased spouse’s portion should be returned. Checks should be voided and returned by mail to the IRS. If a family member cashed a check or the money was received via direct deposit, the recipient of the funds should send the funds back via a personal check or money order.