How does the government keep track of dead people for Social Security purposes?

“Mom died in 1993, but her daughter kept cashing her Social Security checks for 24 years” (Sacramento Bee) describes a situation that I would imagine to be fairly common. Social Security checks come from the Federal government, but deaths are recorded by local governments?

How is this system supposed to work such that the Federales figure out it is time to stop sending checks? What if the Social Security recipient has emigrated to Mexico or Portugal? (Social Security checks keep coming after emigration, but Medicare entitlement is limited to treatment within the U.S., I think)

As the U.S. population keeps growing and the chance of bureaucrats and beneficiaries encountering one another in person, will this become more common?


  • “Agencies can’t always tell who’s dead and who’s not, so benefit checks keep coming” (Washington Post, 2013)

6 thoughts on “How does the government keep track of dead people for Social Security purposes?

  1. There was a village in Japan where an extraordinary number of residents were living to the age of 100+. When medical researchers visited searching for the source of this amazing longevity, they found all the centenarians had died 20-30 years ago. Their families hadn’t reported their deaths to keep receiving their pension checks.

  2. There are private services that notify you when people die. Private firms that have 3rd party life insurance policies use them. I believe they use people to browse death notices – among other things. At a guess, the Feds use them too.

  3. It was reported that some insurance companies ignored the fact that people died so they could avoid paying off on the policies and continue to collect the premiums from the cash value of the policy.

  4. My grandma lived in Toronto and received Social Security cheques in the mail from her time living and working in Detroit. Every 5 years or so someone from the SSA came and met with her to confirm she was still alive and cashing her own cheques. The SSA employee met with a bunch of other seniors in her building and, presumably, around the city.

    When my grandma moved to a rural assisted living facility 1200km away, the SSA people stopped visiting in-person.

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