Millions of Americans have been hurt by COVID-19, and with the economy still largely shut down, the onslaught is likely to continue. Thankfully, lawmakers passed the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act in late March, and it's loaded with provisions designed to ease some of Americans' financial woes. In addition to boosting and extending unemployment, relaxing retirement plan withdrawal rules, and funding forgivable loans for small businesses struggling to keep up with payroll costs, the CARES Act also allows for a one-time, $1,200 stimulus payment that will likely serve as a lifeline for many of the people who receive them.
A good 88 million Americans have received those payments already, and more payments are expected to go out in the coming weeks via both direct deposit and paper checks in the mail (though the latter could take a while -- as much as five months to arrive). Furthermore, there are some Americans who aren't entitled to stimulus payments -- namely, those who earn too much money, and those aged 17 or older who are claimed as a dependent on a parent's tax return. But here's a surprising group of people who may be getting stimulus checks: the deceased.
How dead people are receiving stimulus checks
Eligibility for a stimulus payment is based on the tax information the IRS has on file via either a 2018 or 2019 return (many Americans have yet to file a 2019 return because the deadline to do so was pushed back until July 15). As such, it's possible for a person to have filed a 2018 return, or an early 2019 return, but to have also passed away after the fact. If that person still has an active bank account, it's conceivable that a stimulus payment may have already landed in it, leaving a joint account holder or someone with access to that account to collect that money.
Can you keep a deceased person's stimulus check?
If you receive a stimulus payment that's issued to a deceased person whose financial assets you have access to, you're supposed to return that money, says Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. But the extent to which the government is able to recoup erroneously issued payments is up for debate. Right now, chasing that money down is unlikely, and the government may only succeed in reclaiming payments when there's evidence of deliberate fraud.
Still, if you're in the possession of a deceased relative's stimulus payment, think twice before you spend it. A better idea is to stick it in a savings account, or contact the IRS and ask about returning it to avoid problems. Obviously, a lot of people are hurting financially right now, and that extra money may seem nice. But if it's not yours to keep, the last thing you should do is spend it and then risk a scenario where you're being asked -- or compelled -- to repay money you no longer have.