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'Very Appalling': County Declares Woman Dead After Obit With Same Name Printed In Newspaper

FAIR OAKS (CBS13) — A Fair Oaks couple was left shocked when Sacramento County declared Janice Riordan dead. The news came from the tax assessor, but we found her breathing.

When we caught up with Janice she was watering her garden and walking her dog, Tia. She was the most active dead person we'd ever seen.

"I am alive," she said. "Very much alive."

Her husband, Mike, confirmed it.

"I'm still married. Happily married. She tells me all the time!" Mike said.

But that's not how the tax assessor's office described Janice when they declared her dead. It all started with a confusing letter from the Sacramento County Property Transfer Division. It came addressed to Mike, saying their house might be reassessed "due to the death of an owner."

Janice immediately called the tax assessor's office.

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"She said, 'According to our records, Janice Riordan passed away on Feb. 6, 2019,' and I was like taken back," Janice said. "I was like, 'This is Janice Riordan. I'm very much alive.'"

The assessor's office told her they got the information from an obituary they read in the newspaper. Janice tracked it down. As she read the obituary out loud, tears streamed down her face.

"I'm sorry," she said. "It's tough to read your name in the newspaper. That she passed on."

But it was obviously a different Janice Riordan. The birthdate was different and so was the husband. In fact, the only thing the two Janice's shared was a name, and a county. Janice was horrified she'd been declared dead based on so little information.

"I find it appalling. just appalling," she said.

CBS13 spoke to Jill Dulce at the county assessor's office.

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"Oh my goodness," Dulce said. "Nobody wants to get that kind of letter in the mail."

She admitted her office does proactively search obituaries to keep tax records updated. They crosscheck everything they can. Typically that's the name and the county. Often, it's nothing else. If they have any reason to believe a death may have occurred, the letter goes out. It's up to the homeowner to set the record straight.

Mike called the policy ridiculous.

"What if it was John Smith who passed away? How many John Smith letters are you going to send out?" Mike said.

So, how often does the tax assessor mistakenly declare people dead?

"I can't tell you how often it occurs,"  the manager said. "But I can tell you it's very rare."

Dulce said this was a one in a million occurrence and extended her apologies to the Riordans. She said someone in the office jumped the gun by declaring Janice Riordan dead before hearing back from a homeowner. Typically that doesn't happen until they receive further confirmation.

"We are extremely happy that you are alive and well," she said.

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Janice called the office to set the record straight. She then got an email that said, "The record...showing you erroneously passing away has been voided."

And just like that, Janice Riordan was resurrected.

"I'm finally able to say this is a little funny" she laughed. "He was single for six weeks and didn't even know it. The widower!"

Mike was just happy the whole thing is behind them.

"I'm very happy she's alive."

The county said it's important to keep its records up to date to collect taxes. After the Call Kurtis Investigation, the assessor's office stopped using obituaries and is working on a clearer letter so people understand why they're getting it.

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