President Donald Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — and now the IRS — are urging people who received coronavirus relief payments for a deceased taxpayer to return the money to the government.
But legal experts say there is no law requiring people do that.
Some of the more than 130 million economic impact payments that went out to taxpayers as part of the $2.2 trillion economic relief package were sent to dead people. That happened mainly because of a lag in reporting data on who is deceased. It’s happened with past federal stimulus payments, and tax experts say is almost inevitable.
However, this is the first time the IRS has asked for the money back from the deceased taxpayers’ survivors. Some law experts say the government may not have the legal authority to require it be returned. They also suggest the move may be just the IRS responding to pressure from the White House and the Treasury Department.
Trump and Mnuchin have both said publicly in recent weeks that money sent to deceased taxpayers should be returned. But the IRS didn’t issue any formal guidance until this week. On Wednesday, it updated its website , stating that if a person died before the payment was issued, the money should be returned. It also provided instructions on how to do so.
The IRS and Treasury did not say what would happen if these payments were not returned or otherwise repaid.
Former Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson said that there is nothing in the law prohibiting payments from going to the deceased. Nor is there anything in the law requiring people to return the payments. And she noted that the language used on the IRS website does not say that returning the payments is required by law.
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