Stimulus Checks: Payments Sent to Dead Americans Should Be Returned, Treasury Secretary Says

Americans who have gotten a stimulus check for a deceased relative have now been warned to return it to the U.S government. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was asked about checks for dead loved ones in a new interview with The Wall Street Journal. He said that if Americans do not send those payments back, there is a chance they will be collected later on.

"You're not supposed to keep that payment," Mnuchin said of Economic Impact Payments for deceased Americans. "We're checking the databases, but there could be a scenario where we missed something, and yes, the heirs should be returning that money. We will be issuing guidance on this shortly."

The stimulus checks were sent out using the same financial information in a person's last tax return, so in the cases of those who passed away very recently, they may still receive a payment in the mail. While Mnuchin said Americans should return that money, experts were doubtful that the IRS would be able to come collect it if they did not.

For one thing, the language of the CARES Act notes that Americans who get more money than they should have in their stimulus check should just keep it, and not try to return it, according to a report by CNBC. For another thing, senior policy analyst for the Tax Foundation, Garrett Watson, said that the IRS could have a difficult time tracking that money down, or collecting it if they find it.

"If they're thinking about going forward and trying to chase people down for that money, that's probably not the best way to instill trust in the process," Watson said. "It will cause a lot of confusion, too."

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Watson said that the government's best move here is to pursue repayment only in cases when there is clear evidence of deliberate fraud. To top it all off, the IRS has been in this situation before, and in that case many Americans did get to keep their deceased loved ones' checks. About 71,500 Social Security beneficiaries reportedly received $250 stimulus checks during the 2008 financial crisis.

As for Americans who received less money than they were entitled to in their stimulus check, the difference will be paid in their 2020 tax returns. Of course, for those millions who are currently out of work, this may be a small comfort. For updates on your stimulus check, visit the IRS' Get My Payment website. For the latest on the coronavirus pandemic itself, visit the websites of the CDC and the World Health Organization.