Sir: You No Longer Exist
July 6, 2002
bad news came in the Saturday morning mail. My father received
a notice that more than a thousand dollars, representing two Social
Security checks he had received that spring, had been deducted from
his checking account and returned to the Social Security
Administration. The reason? He was dead.
notice was a form 1510-0043 which had been sent from the Treasury
Department to the Richwood Banking Company on July 28, 1982. It
stated, "The Government has become aware of a situation of death
or legal incapacity pertaining to the following Federal recurring
payment(s) for which your organization is accountable."
Listed were two direct deposits of $500.10, dated May 3 and June 3,
1982, made to the bank account of Vernon M. Thomas and labeled with
his Social Security number.
are advantages to being able to receive mail on a Saturday, but one
big disadvantage is that you can't ask questions until Monday.
My frustrated father had to fume about this for the whole
weekend. Since my mother had died unexpectedly three months
before, he was a widower, alone in his large house, now a thousand
dollars poorer and officially dead himself.
Monday morning, he drove to the nearby city of Marion to inquire at
the local Social Security office. The clerks there had no idea
what was going on.
Tuesday, August 3, he checked with his bank and learned that his
August direct deposit from Social Security had arrived as scheduled,
just like the July payment. But the earlier May and June
payments had been recalled.
been three days in the dark, he wrote to the Treasury Department
office that had issued the recall order.
of the Treasury
please, please tell me in more detail what this enclosed form,
received by me Saturday 31 July 1982, is all about.
assure you I am neither dead nor do I suffer "legal incapacity."
closing sentence states, "Any questions you may have about this
matter should be directed to the agency which authorized the payment,
Social Security." Here I have met one of the famous
stonewalls of government. The Social Security office in Marion,
Ohio, 125 Executive Drive 43302, were unable to explain what caused
me to be served with such a notice.
"Date of Event" 4/01/82 What supposedly happened
What triggered the paper work that resulted in the Richwood Banking
Company charging my checking account with over one thousand dollars?
Why was not "the agency which authorized the payment"
(Social Security) informed, so as to answer questions as suggested in
Why were the payments to me of Social Security benefits for the
months of May and June recalled, but payments for July and August permitted?
early reply will be appreciated, as I am getting very tired sitting
here and not being able to find out who reported me.
very nervous and outraged taxpayer,
father listed his address, phone number, social security number, and
bank account number, then added four more question marks and this postscript:
please please restore me back to life so I can
continue to pay my taxes.
his pleas, a reply didn't arrive for more than two weeks. The
office in Birmingham must have had a backlog of such letters from
dead folks. When the director did reply, he admitted that he
didn't know what was going on either.
reponse to your letter dated August 3, 1982, this is to advise that
the form you received from the Richmond [sic] Banking Co. was
initiated in our office upon a request received from the Social
issue payments for Social Security beneficiaries using payment
information received from the agency; however, we do not maintain the
payee files. We have no way of knowing what has been received
by the Social Security Administration that would have caused them to
think you were deceased.
we do not have access to your records, we are not in a position to
answer the questions you have asked in your letter. Therefore,
we are sending your correspondence to the local Social Security
Administration to permit them to expedite corrective action on this case.
no further correspondence in this file. Social Security
eventually discovered their error and restored the funds. The
likely cause of the error: my mother, Vernon's wife Ann Thomas,
did die on April 24, 1982 (though not on April 1), and somebody
instead marked Vernon as deceased. It did not help the
widower's state of mind to be informed, fourteen weeks later, that he
too was dead.