What To Do When Social Security Says You’ve Passed On

It’s rare, but it happens to real people. And it happens more often than you might think. Whether it’s due to a clerical error or a misreporting, the Social Security Administration sometimes declares people dead—when they are very much alive.

Every year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) mistakenly declares around 12,000 people dead. Considering about 2.8 million Americans die every year, the error rate is actually quite low.

But if you’re one of those 12,000 people who discovers they’re dead, you probably don’t care about the error rate. Being declared deceased can affect your life in many ways, such as:

  • you no longer receive Social Security benefits
  • your Medicare or other insurance is canceled, making you responsible for all your medical bills
  • your Medicaid benefits are cut off
  • your bank account is locked up

Besides for the many and varied financial ramifications of being officially dead, there will probably also be some emotional fallout. Nobody wants to hear, “Sorry, this person is deceased” when they try to make a doctor’s appointment or fill a prescription.

Fortunately, you can reverse your (erroneous) death, but it can take some time and effort. Dealing with government agencies  can also be an emotionally frustrating experience, so if you’re the senior dealing with this, you might want to enlist the help of a relative or friend. Residents of a long-term care facility like Regency Nursing can also turn to the in-house social worker or administration department for help.

Here’s How to Bring Yourself Back to Life:

The process doesn’t have to be long and drawn out, if you act immediately. Your first clue that something isn’t right may come when a check bounces or your prescription is rejected. Or you might get a notice from Medicare or your insurance company that your health coverage has been canceled.

However you first find out, it’s important to swing into action right away. The sooner you get your life back, the lower the financial impact.

The SSA has a section on their FAQ page telling you what to do if this happens to you.

  1. Go in person to your local Social Security office as soon as possible. Bring at least one original piece of identification, such as a current passport, driver’s license, or insurance card other than Medicare card.
  2. Social Security’s correction will automatically be forwarded to Medicare. They will reinstate your coverage as soon as they receive the notification.
  3. Once your record is corrected, the SSA will give you a letter, called “Erroneous Death Case – Third Party Contact,” to send to your bank, doctors, and other providers.
  4. Confirm with your insurance that any claims denied for no coverage will be reimbursed retroactively. If you had any checks bounce because the bank froze your account, ask the bank to waive those fees. The bank is not required to do so, but many times they will accommodate you.

If you act swiftly, you can reinstate your coverage in a matter of weeks. In my experience—I’ve dealt with four such cases in New Jersey in the last eight years—it can take anywhere from two weeks to two months for Medicare coverage to resume.

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