While there have been reports of people receiving stimulus checks for their deceased relatives, that money should not be spent, according to a top White House official.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the Wall Street Journal that families who receive the payments should return them to the federal government, although he did not specify how.
“You’re not supposed to keep that payment,” Mnuchin told the news outlet. “We’re checking the databases, but there could be a scenario where we missed something, and yes, the heirs should be returning that money.”
Tens of millions of people received stimulus payments up to $1,200 for those who are eligible plus $500 for children under the age of 17. The information used to distribute those payments is based on prior tax returns filed in 2018 and 2019, meaning that someone who died after filing taxes for those two years could still receive a payment.
It’s not clear how many payments were sent out to deceased people, and it’s also not clear what the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is planning to do if someone keeps the money. The agency, which is overseen by the Treasury Department, has not issued any guidance on what to do.
A spokesperson for the Treasury Department told CNBC on Wednesday that the agency “will be issuing guidance on this shortly.”
Of the checks, President Donald Trump said on April 17 that his administration would get them back, without elaborating.
“Everything we’re going to get back. But it’s a tiny amount,” he said at the time.
In one instance, North Carolina woman Heather Frazier told the WSJ that she received a $1,200 direct deposit for her husband, Rob, who died in June 2018.
“My husband was a wonderful money manager, and I think he would be happy to know he was still getting a stimulus payment,” she said. “If they want the money back or whatever, I’ll pay it back.”
In a high-profile incident, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) wrote on April 15 that a friend’s father, who died in 2018, also received a $1,200 stimulus payment.
“Ok this is insane, but just the tip of the iceberg. This is a direct text to me from a friend. I called to confirm this actually just happened,” Massie wrote, including a screenshot of the message.
A Florida-based tax preparer, Adam Markowitz, told MarketWatch that his clients have also reported similar payments to deceased relatives.
“There is nothing that the IRS has that is preventing someone who is deceased from receiving this money,” said Markowitz.