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Coronavirus Stimulus Checks Being Sent To Dead People As Unemployed Americans Await Needed Funds

DUMONT, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- The government is cutting checks for deceased Americans, even as plenty of people who are out of work and need the funds are still waiting for theirs.

Eileen Martorelli passed away in September 2018 at 91 years old, but this week, the United States Treasury mailed her a $1,200 stimulus check. It was sent to the Dumont, New Jersey, home where she once lived.

Next to her name, it even acknowledges she's deceased and lists Thomas Martorelli, the executor of her will and her son.

RELATED STORY: Some U.S. Citizens Blocked From Receiving Coronavirus Stimulus Checks Because Of Spouse's Immigration Status

The checks are going out as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act.

"We were really surprised," Martorelli told CBS2's Lisa Rozner. "My mother was a big Trump supporter in a family of Democrats, so ... we know that somewhere up there she's telling us all, 'See?'"

But it's no joke.


It's happening nationwide.

"We're seeing this more. I've had clients that have called me where they were alive at the time that the act was passed and then they died after that and there's a lot of confusion," said elder planning and estate attorney Yale Hauptman, of Livingston.

The CARES Act was drafted so quickly, it didn't include a clause explaining what happens to those who die in the interim.

Accountant Michael Karu says checks are sent based on when someone filed a tax return with the IRS and not the Social Security Administration, which tracks deaths.

"So, for example, if somebody passed away in the beginning of 2020 and has not yet filed their 2019 tax return ... there would be no indication to the IRS that the person died," Karu said.

Experts say the IRS is supposed to check death records, but there's often a delay in getting them from the Social Security Administration and states.

For now, Martorelli's family is holding onto the check.

"We'll probably keep it as a memento and frame it and toast to her on her birthday, which we still celebrate every year," Martorelli said.

CORONAVIRUS: NY Health Dept. | NY Call 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Health Dept. | NYC Call 311, Text COVID to 692692 | NJ Health Dept. | NJ Call 1-(800)-222-1222 or 211, Text NJCOVID to 898211 | CT Health Dept. | CT Call 211

After speaking with Martorelli, the IRS clarified to CBS2 that checks sent to someone who died before the receipt of payment should be returned. If the payment was made to joint filers and one spouse is still alive, then return the deceased person's portion.

It can charge interest or penalties if the payment is not returned.

For instructions on how to send the check back, visit and click on Q41.

If you're still not sure what to do with a check for a loved one who has passed, experts say don't spend it until you get exact instructions from the IRS.

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