He’s alive: IRS fixes error with widower’s living status after more than a year


CLINTON, Tenn. (WATE) — Many have heard the phrase, “back from the dead,” and Michael Sisson can relate to that personally.

For more than a year, Sisson had trouble with the Internal Revenue Service because of his Social Security number. We first told you about Sisson’s situation last month.

To cut through some red tape, we contacted the Social Security Administration, finding that the situation was with the IRS. Dealing with federal bureaucracy can leave many people feeling frustrated to death, so to speak.

We tend to take being alive for granted, but not Sisson. His tax return was denied twice due to confusion over his Social Security number.

For Sisson the IRS has finally changed his status from deceased to living, and he’s eligible for his income tax return.

“Yes, sir, for now. I just hope that it lasts through next year,” Sisson said.

Last month, when we first talked with Michael, a maintenance supervisor at an RV sales center, he had been battling an uphill fight with the IRS trying to prove he’s not dead.  Michael, the father of two grown children, is a widower. Tracy, his wife of 31 years, passed away from cancer in November 2019.

In 2020 he received two stimulus checks and the government continues to take out Social Security wages. However, when Michael filed his income tax return, this year and last year, he received no refund, even though he’s due money from the IRS.

“They said that they had the Social Security numbers mixed up and that I was deceased instead of my wife even though I had mailed them a death certificate,” Michael Sisson said.

He showed us a certified copy of his wife’s death certificate which he sent off to the IRS.

“And, it is self-explanatory, there’s my wife’s name, when she passed away, the time of death and everything,” Sisson said.

Last month, we contacted Social Security about Michael’s unusual situation. We were told they’d contact him and they did.

The Social Security Administration has said all along that Sisson was alive.   

“Social Security has been really good. Mr. Coffee with the Social Security Administration in Oak Ridge here. He contacted me the next morning after our interview. He’s been good in trying to help. He’s faxed some stuff to the IRS,” Michael Sisson said.

Because of the pandemic, IRS offices are closed. However, representatives are working from home. One of them contacted Michael about his return.

“They had me locked out. Since my wife had died, they had me locked out of the system from filing electronically. They said I had to mail it in which I did,” Sisson said.

So how long will it take for that IRS check to arrive? Six to eight weeks, he was told.

“Well, it’s going to help pay my bills. It’s going to help me get financially a little bit out of the hole,” he said.

For a year, Michael found himself in a Ping-Pong match of sorts between the IRS and the Social Security Administration trying to prove you are living can be daunting when the government says you’re not.

Some takeaways from his experience:

  • When it comes to an issue with your Social Security number, you need to make an appointment by calling your local Social Security office.
  • Currently there are no walk-in appointments due to the pandemic; call ahead.
  • What you would need to show are different forms of identification: Photo ID, passport or birth certificate.
  • Once the Social Security Administration has verified you ID, and the fact that you’re still breathing, the agency ought to be able to remedy the Social Security problem.

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