It may seem strange to imagine what life must be like as a living person who is presumed to be dead by the US Government. Unfortunately, this happens more often than you might think, and for the people whose lives are impacted by such mistakes, the resulting turmoil can be incredibly stressful.
Laws and regulations that govern the reconciliation of living or dead status of an individual vary from country to country. Here in the United States, it can be especially difficult to navigate a wrongful ‘dead’ status even after the error is corrected.
For example, having been declared dead and then restored to ‘living’ by legal means can be viewed as a red flag for employers, lenders, or landlords. They might think the person attempted a kind of financial scam, and as such, they can be denied credit, loans, or other consumer services.
Thankfully, there are some actions you can take if you are wrongfully declared dead. In this article, the legal team at Matthew R. Osborne, PC are exploring this topic and offering some tips to consider if a wrongful ‘dead’ attribution is ever applied to you or someone you love.
How Does a Wrongful ‘Dead’ Declaration Happen?
Of all of the reasons why someone might be incorrectly labeled ‘deceased’ by the federal government, by far the most common is clerical error.
Because funeral homes, hospitals, and hospices are run by humans, and because humans are prone to error, it’s certain that clerical mishaps will happen. The Social Security Administration itself is also prone to error, and when you combine these errors together, it’s not really surprising that 7,000-14,000 US citizens are wrongfully declared dead every year.
Here in the United States, the Social Security Number is the most widely used identifier for tracking the credit and living or dead status of an individual. If and when an error is made related to the living status of a US citizen, that error may not be made known by the affected person until they try to obtain a loan, buy a home, or conduct some other transaction involving the use of their SSN.
Imagine the surprise in finding out that your loan application was denied because the federal government thinks you’re dead!
The ramifications of a wrongful death declaration go even further than denied loans. Once the US Government thinks you’re dead, they update the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (DMF), a central data repository that is used by financial institutions throughout the world.
Once your SSN has made it onto the DMF, it can be a massive undertaking to get the declaration reversed.
What to Do About It
As soon as you suspect your SSN might have been compromised through an erroneous death declaration, you’re going to want to take action immediately. The longer you wait to do something about this, the more difficult it’s going to be to make things right.
The very first action to take is to contact the Social Security Administration directly. This can be done online by visiting the SSA’s Online Services web portal.
It’s likely that you’ll be asked to present numerous forms of identification throughout this process. So, be ready to provide certified copies of your:
- Military ID
- Driver’s License
- Marriage Certificate
- Birth Certificate
- Adoption Record
- Any other identifying document you have access to
In most cases, the SSA will conduct a prompt review of your claim against its wrongful death declaration, and they’ll make a determination to reverse it. When this happens, they’ll typically provide you with a certified letter stating that you are, indeed, alive and well and that any record of your death is erroneous.
Unfortunately, you’re not going to be done yet. Over the coming months, you’ll want to be sure to monitor your credit files, as the top three credit bureaus—Experian, Transunion, and Equifax—can take weeks or months to reflect the changes that the SSA makes on your behalf. Sometimes, these bureaus can be exceptionally slow during this process, and you might need to contact them directly to hasten their record updating activities.
It’s not uncommon for this entire debacle to take multiple months or even years to fully rectify. Thankfully, the assistance of a knowledgeable credit attorney can be a huge help. A consumer advocate attorney like Matt Osborne can write letters on your behalf, make requests for confirmations, and represent you in lawsuits if necessary.
If you believe you are a victim of a wrongful death declaration and need legal assistance, contact our team today.