, September 30, 2011 4:16 pm
Actually, to be more accurate, the Social Security Office of the Inspector General says more than $40 million in Social Security benefits were paid out to deceased Americans in 2008, the year of the most recent audit. This, despite the fact the recipients’ deaths had already been recorded by the agency. This certainly isn’t good publicity for the Social Security Administration (SSA) and only increases concern on the part of Americans who don’t believe they’ll be receiving a benefit when they’re ready to retire.
It’s also completely different from what I experienced after my mother died back in 1994. Because her death got reported to Social Security by the funeral home, I was surprised by how quickly the SSA kicked into action. Mom had passed away on the 28th of the month and before the following month had ended, the SSA reversed the direct deposit of her prior month’s benefit and took it back…all of it. I guess I’d figure the government would take back an amount for the last four days of the month, instead of for all 31 days. If I’d known, maybe I’d have encouraged her to “hang on until August 1st.” I remember thinking it was kind of tacky of them to do that…from someone who had such a small estate.
But, I guess when you’ve got a Death Master File that contains 87 million death records, it’s easy to get mixed up. Actually, there’s no excuse for this.
If a person’s death isn’t reported to Social Security, and the checks continue to be cashed, that’s fraud, of course, and the SSA has a good track record of going after people. There’s the case of Rand Washburn in San Diego, who buried his mother in his back yard and collected more than $300,000 in Social Security payments in a 15 year period. He pleaded guilty to felony grand theft.
The Inspector General’s report estimates around $152 million could be saved this year if the SSA did a better job of tracking who is owed money and who isn’t, included the dearly departed. Here’s hoping things get better, because we all know that dough is going to be needed down the road. Until next time, here’s to good planning!