Retired police officer fighting IRS for refund after they declare him deceased for second year

Investigations

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — For the second consecutive year, a retired police officer has had to fight for his tax refund from the Internal Revenue Service, because the agency still thinks he’s dead.

It happened last year and it took a whole year before the policeman’s 2019 tax refund check arrived — and there is a way to correct the problem. It takes time to get the issue resolved because you have to deal with two big federal agencies: the Social Security Administration and the IRS.

For Vern Dollhopf, he has been receiving his Social Security checks every month since his wife passed away; but his IRS refund check and his coronavirus stimulus checks have been delayed.

Vern’s wife Sue of 48 years passed away in early 2018. The next year there was no problem in receiving their income tax refund. But in early 2020, he ran into a roadblock with the IRS.

“So, in January of 2020, I requested a copy of my income tax. At that time they told me I was deceased,” Dollhopf said. “I had to fill out all kinds of paperwork to get a copy of it. So I get the copy and I file my income tax within 21 days or so, I had not gotten my refund.”

Vern went to the IRS website and found the page “How to contact a local office.” He said it took him weeks before he could contact someone. Eventually, he was told his deceased wife Sue was listed through her Social Security number as being “alive,” but his Social Security number belonged to a deceased person.

“They said they would correct that. Well a couple of months later I still had not gotten a refund,” Dollhopf said. “I called again, I kept getting these answering machines. I finally got through to a person, and, again, they said they would correct it. This is about July. By August, I still had not gotten my refund. I contacted them again, this time they finally straightened it out enough to send me the check, I got the check in February.”

A whole 13 months after his initial contact.

The same thing happened again this year. A note from his tax preparer states his Social Security number has been locked and belongs to a deceased individual.

“Social Security says, ‘You are alive,'” he said. “I’m getting my Social Security checks and everything is OK.”

Vern Dollhopf is not the first East Tennessean to run into this problem from the IRS. Kathi Hollander, a widow, also went through something similar. She was very careful when it came to filing her income taxes for 2019, the year her husband died.

“I filed my 2019. I did my due diligence: Put on my tax return I was the surviving spouse,” Kathi Hollander said. “My husband had passed. And the date he passed away.”

Kathi Hollander says she received her 2019 tax return and her refund, but 2020 was different. When Hollander went to send in her 2020 taxes, she was sent a rejection letter through the IRS’s e-file account.

“It’s very frustrating,” she said. “The note said the Social Security number provided belonged to a deceased individual.”

To correct the issue — you have to contact Social Security and provide identifying documentation. Once confirmed, Social Security will forward you a letter confirming the Social Security number belongs to a living person. You then send that letter to the IRS.

“I want it corrected, I want my refund and the two stimulus checks that I have not gotten,” Vern Dollhopf said.

Every year, lots of taxpayers wait for what seems unreasonable lengths of time for their refunds. It’s even longer this year because of the big backlog facing the IRS. And thousands of people even find they are in the same erroneously declared situation as Vern Dollhopf and Kathi Hollander.

Kathi Hollander was able to navigate her way through Social Security and she has that confirmation letter saying she’s alive. She’s now waiting for her refund from the IRS.

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