Personal Finance

Stimulus checks have been sent to dead people. Now the IRS has released instructions for how to return the money

Key Points
  • Millions of $1,200 checks have been sent to Americans as part of the government's stimulus efforts.
  • Because those checks are based on past tax returns, they are also erroneously being sent to deceased individuals.
  • The IRS has released instructions for how families can return that money.
Employee Linda Tarkenton holds a blank U.S. Treasury check before it's run through a printer at the U.S. Treasury printing facility in Philadelphia.
Getty Images

When it comes to those federal stimulus checks, the IRS wants some of that money returned.

At least that's what the tax agency essentially said in its latest guidance issued on Wednesday.

The U.S. government has been sending out millions of stimulus checks for up to $1,200 per individual based on their tax returns for either 2018 or 2019.

Some of those individuals have died since filing those returns. However, that hasn't stopped the government from sending them checks. For families receiving that money on behalf of deceased loved ones, it prompts the question: Should we keep it or send it back?

The IRS response: Send it back.

The agency added the question, "Does someone who has died qualify for the payment" to its stimulus Q&A section on Wednesday. The answer: no.

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"A payment made to someone who died before receipt of the payment should be returned to the IRS by following the instructions about repayments," the agency wrote.  

There is one exception — sort of. If a couple is married and filed their taxes jointly, and then one spouse passes away, the living spouse can keep their payment. But they must return the portion of the money paid to the decedent, the IRS said.

The IRS also updated its site to include instructions on how to return the money.

If it's a paper check, you should write "void" on the endorsement section on the back of the check and mail it to the Treasury Department with a note stating why you are sending it back.

If you cashed the check or it was a direct deposit, you can send a personal check payable to the U.S. Treasury along with an explanation.

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So who's getting the stimulus checks?

More detailed instructions, as well as addresses to which to send the money, are available on the IRS website.

It's not the first time that the government has sent money to dead people. Thousands of deceased Social Security beneficiaries received stimulus checks following the financial crisis of 2008-09.

Still, receiving the checks can come as a shock to family members.

Allan Roth, founder of financial advisory firm Wealth Logic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, tweeted on Wednesday that he had received a $1,200 check for his deceased mother.

"The IRS system is smart enough to note she is deceased, as I filed a 2018 final tax return, but not smart enough to figure out deceased people can't stimulate the economy," he said.