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Dead people get stimulus checks; Valpo woman wonders what to do with mother's $1,200

Dead people get stimulus checks; Valpo woman wonders what to do with mother's $1,200

From the ICYMI: Here are the most-read stories from the past week series
Coronavirus stimulus checks going out to dead people, must be returned

A coronavirus stimulus check was sent to Judith Berkowski, who died in late 2018.

While many struggling people out of work still are waiting on their coronavirus relief checks, the stimulus payments are being mailed to the dead.

Michigan City resident Kristy Rucker's late father received a coronavirus stimulus check even though his taxes were filed stating he is deceased.

She hasn't been able to reach the Internal Revenue Service during the COVID-19 public health crisis and isn't sure what to do.

The late Valparaiso resident Judith Berkowski also received a $1,200 check from the federal government to aid in the coronavirus recovery, but she died in 2018. The letter is even addressed to Judith Berkowski DECD, which is short for deceased.

"I feel bad for the people that need the money," her daughter Liz Engel said. "There are people that need that money. This is crazy."

An IRS spokesman declined to answer questions on the record or even give his full name. Media outlets have reported dead people have been getting coronavirus stimulus checks all over the country since they are sent to anyone who filed a tax return for 2018 or 2019 and many since have died.

The IRS just updated its question-and-answer page about the coronavirus stimulus payments to say that dead people do not qualify for the relief and the checks should be returned to the IRS.

"Return the entire payment unless the payment was made to joint filers and one spouse had not died before receipt of the payment, in which case, you only need to return the portion of the Payment made on account of the decedent," the IRS said on the website. "This amount will be $1,200 unless adjusted gross income exceeded $150,000."

The IRS instructs family members who received checks for the deceased to write void and mail it back with a note stating the reason for returning it. If the payment was a direct deposit, they should send a check or mail order to the U.S. Treasury and write 2020EIP and the taxpayer identification number in the memo line.

Indiana residents should mail the check back to "Kansas City Refund Inquiry Unit, 333 W. Pershing Road, Mail Stop 6800, N-2, Kansas City, MO 64108." Illinois residents should sent it to "Philadelphia Refund Inquiry Unit, 2970 Market St., DP 3-L08-151, Philadelphia, PA 19104."

But taxpayer advocate Nina Olsen, with the nonprofit Center for Taxpayer Rights, said the IRS didn't require estates to return stimulus payments in 2008.

"So the IRS completely changed its tune from 2008 even though the statutory language about eligibility is identical in 2008 and 2020," she said. "And the IRS in 2020 FAQ 10 doesn't say, by law you must return this payment. Instead it says you 'should.' In fact, the IRS in FAQ 26 says there is no law requiring repayment. People need to make up their own minds about how they want to proceed. If they want to keep the funds, they need to talk to the attorney advising them on the estate, if any. Some estates are so small and the property passes to one person, there isn’t even an attorney involved. All of that — where the funds go — is governed by state law."

Olsen said the situation should have been handled better.

"The IRS has made a muddle of things," she said. "I wish they had kept the 2008 language and then just added, if you would like to return the funds, please mail them here."

For Engel, the whole thing has been a major hassle.

"My main concern is that I'm the executor of the will and my name is on this check but the recipient is deceased," she said. "If I mail it back and it doesn't get there, do they come after me? This whole thing is crazy."

The fourth installment in the "Riding Shotgun with NWI Cops" series features Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez. See as Martinez performs highway patrols and oversees a raid on a suspected drug house.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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