My (Brief) Brush with Death: Lessons Learned

Officially, I was dead last month.  I was blissfully unaware and found out by accident.  I volunteer as a Representative Payee for a man in Wilmington who is mentally disabled and cannot manage his Social Security income on his own.  I do all of his banking and bill paying.  Last month, I received a letter from the SSA (Soc. Sec. Administration), stating that the person receiving his payments (me), could no longer serve as his rep payee, and that the SSA was looking for a replacement.   Unable to get any information by phone, I visited the SSA office in person.


Are you ready?

Imagine my surprise, (and that of the young clerk), when we found out that I was listed as deceased!   She couldn’t quite look me in the eye and use the D-word, and finally settled on ‘expired’.   I told her it was a good week for resurrections.  She also suggested that I be careful driving home.  Oh, the ironies!

Interestingly, there was no record of how this had occurred.  Her best guess was a typo.  I began to think about the havoc it could wreak in someone’s life if they didn’t detect this mistake for a while.  I was only notified because “John” was notified.  Apparently there is a Death Master File, which is maintained by the SSA, and can be purchased by approved organizations like banks and credit companies, the IRS and Medicare.   Can you see where this could take you?  I was only dead for two weeks and, so far, have suffered no ill effects.  I suspect that I was very lucky.

“John” didn’t miss any benefit payments, but they had been suspended until a new rep payee could be found.  If I had not visited the office, I am sure he would have run out of money before the cash flow was restarted.  The only notice was sent to his ‘dead’ rep payee!

Here are some things you can do to lessen the effect if you become one of the 38 people every day who are wrongfully reported as deceased.

  1. Check your credit report regularly, or subscribe to a service that alerts you of any activity.
  2. Notify the source agency (if you know it), and any financial institutions you deal with once you have proven that you are still above the turf.
  3. Document details of dates & correspondence with any companies/agencies you deal with.
  4. Request a letter from SSA stating that you have proven your ‘rebirth’.
  5. Have a sense of humor.

Be sure to always write your SSN very clearly, especially for hospital stays (38% of death reports come from hospitals.)

Make sure you leave clear, easily found instructions in case you really do die unexpectedly!  Think through the ramifications in your personal and business lives.  There are a lot of things that need to be in place and making the list is a good start.   This type of planning is something that Daily Money Managers help their clients with, so they can avoid laying a huge burden on their families in a time of crisis.  I realized from this experience that even my volunteer job could seriously impact others, if I didn’t have a process in place in the case of my own untimely demise.  Most of us are notorious procrastinators when it comes to planning for death.  After all, we’re “not dead yet”!

Your health and peace of mind are worth every step of this journey.