LI man mistakenly declared dead by Social Security, leading to severe consequences

Every account he ever had was locked. One by one, Gene Indenbaum started to learn which entities now considered him deceased. He spent months contacting a dozen agencies to convince them he was very much alive.

Rachel Yonkunas

May 6, 2024, 9:31 PM

Updated 17 days ago

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One error at the Social Security Administration has led to months of frustration for a Smithtown man. Gene Indenbaum, 75, was mistakenly declared dead by Social Security nearly two years ago. It created a devastating domino effect on his health insurance, credit cards and much more.
In August 2022, Indenbaum suddenly and unexpectedly lost his wife of 49 years. He began the unbearable burden of closing her accounts and figuring out a plan.
“She handled the paperwork, she handled the finances, and she paid the bills,” said Indenbaum. “She was a vibrant person, and just like that, she was dead.”
Three weeks later, Indenbaum was on the phone with the Social Security Administration when they revealed an even bigger burden. They had erroneously listed Indenbaum as dead on the same day his wife died.
“We're sorry for your loss, but you're dead. We have you listed as deceased,” Indenbaum was told. “The reaction I had was, ‘Oh boy, does this have any far-reaching effects?’ She said, ‘Yes, it does unfortunately.’”
Every account he ever had was locked. One by one, Indenbaum started to learn which entities now considered him deceased. He spent months contacting a dozen agencies to convince them he was very much alive.
“Social Security, Medicare, United Care and the Empire Plan, and the New York State Civil Service,” said Indenbaum. “Then, I had to contact my bank, the credit card company, the equity line of credit, and the credit monitoring companies—there's three of them—so that’s 11. Then, when we filed my 2023 taxes, first time as a single person, it was rejected because the IRS has me listed as dead now.”
Indenbaum had to do all the work himself. Social Security only releases initial death records—not corrections. It's unclear why they mistakenly marked Indenbaum as deceased, but Team 12 Investigates found he’s not alone.
A report by the Social Security Advisory Board found SSA incorrectly records 7,000 to 12,000 people as dead every year.
The board requested information from SSA to clarify how a living person could be recorded as deceased. SSA officials told them the two biggest sources for erroneous death reports are:
  • mistakes made by other federal agencies that are then shared with SSA; or
  • keying errors made during manual input before a report or death certificate is transmitted to SSA or in some cases, when an SSA employee manually inputs a death report on SSA’s side.
As Indenbaum learned, it isn’t easy to prove you are alive once SSA declares you dead.
“They are very quick to tell all these other agencies that I'm dead, but they don’t contact all these other agencies and tell them that I’m not dead, I’m alive,” explained Indenbaum. “Social Security's not going to contact my drug plan. They're not going to contact my bank. All they do is contact me and give me a letter.”
What to do if Social Security mistakenly declares you dead
Social Security does not provide information on how to fix its mistake other than to visit your local Social Security office as soon as possible and bring an original piece of identification such as a driver’s license or passport.
Once SSA corrects your record, it will provide you with a letter called the “Erroneous Death Case – Third Party Contact” notice. You will need to send this letter to others to show that your death report was a mistake. Here is a list of most, but not all, of the entities you will need to send that letter to:
  • Financial institutions
  • Creditors and credit bureaus
  • IRS and local tax departments
  • Medical providers
  • Medicare/Medicaid systems and other health insurance companies
  • Drug prescription plans
  • Retirement systems and benefit plans
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Social services offices
Nearly two years later, Indenbaum is still finding out some agencies believe he is dead and he has to, once again, send out the correction letter from SSA. He is hoping to get the latest issue with the IRS corrected before the October 2024 tax deadline.
“For the person that's going through this, it brought up all the grief that I had,” Indenbaum said. “We all make mistakes, but it's not whether you make a mistake, it's how you rectify the mistake.”


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