Northeast Ohioans confused on what to do with stimulus checks issued to deceased family members

Updated: Apr. 20, 2020 at 8:57 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - As so many people continue to wait on money from the government, others who can’t even physically use the funds are receiving a stimulus check.

We discovered several dead people from Northeast Ohio had been issued money.

Now, their families are trying to figure out what to do with it.

According to one government watchdog group, the government will likely ask for the money back, but it’s unclear whether there could be any legal consequences if families of the deceased don’t follow through.

To be clear, though you may not want to run out and spend the money-- as there is not any official information from the IRS on what could happen if someone keeps a mistake check.

At 93 years old, Bay Village resident Carl Sohn passed away in June of last year.

His son Larry closed Carl’s social security account.

“Some branch of the government knew that he was deceased,” Larry said.

But he had to leave his dad’s bank account open, so he could file his taxes for the last time.

Then, last week, Larry noticed $1,200 come in-- it was a stimulus check, issued by mistake.

A similar situation happened the last time stimulus checks went out in 2008.

A 2010 review done by the Social Security Administration says about $18 million dollars was issued in $250 payments to more than $71,000 dead people.

Tom Schatz is the president of an organization called Citizens against Government Waste.

He says, “Under the cares act, the money goes out automatically- not checking not asking. [It’s] understandable in the circumstances, but certainly wasteful in the end.”

He says it’s unlikely the government will get the tens of thousands of mistake checks back issued this month.

“The way the law is written, they are not going to get it back unless people send it back,” he said. “It goes out, because it’s an advance on the 2020 taxes, there’s no way to offset that next year.”

Schatz says the IRS will likely use a cost vs benefit analysis system in this case too. He says it’s much more worth the Fed’s time to go after corporations or wealthy individuals who owe money than to try to recoup the mistake checks.

“Even if the money could be returned, because the money is a low amount, it may be almost equal to the benefit of getting it back,” he said.

Schatz says in 2009, the government asked for that money back.

The SSA report, however states that the government did not get it all returned.

Schatz says that’s because it was voluntary and likely would be if the government were to ask again this time.

“It’s a matter of how honest people are in terms of returning it,” he said.

So far though, as we mentioned, there is no official information on how people can return mistake checks or whether they will get in trouble for keeping it.

Larry’s wife Kelly tried to call the federal government.

“It’s easy to get the money, but you can’t seem to give it back,” Kelly said.

There aren’t any directions on the IRS website either.

“Hopefully once everything is ironed out we can get that money channeled back, because with everything that is going on we definitely know that the government is going to need all the money they can get,” she said.

The Sohns and other family members that received mistake checks say they are still going to wait a while before moving funds anywhere.

In an effort to confirm what people can legally do with the money, 19 News reached out to both Senator Portman and Senator Brown. We are still waiting to hear back.

No matter what happens, the Sohns say they won’t be the ones to spend the check. They say they will donate the money to charity if the government doesn’t take it back.

“We will definitely be praying about which organization can use it most,” Kelly said.

It’s unclear at this time how many mistake checks went out this time.

However, if the number is around 70,000, at $1,200 each that would be a total of around $84 million in mistake money paid out.

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