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What Happens When Someone Is Accidentally Declared Dead?

What if you died but didn’t know it? You wouldn’t have access to your bank account, and you’d have no health insurance. Your credit score would plummet. Make no mistake about it, being dead would severely impact your life. Around 6,000 people are accidentally declared dead each year, according to the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA). The cause of death? Someone inadvertently added their information to the SSA's Death Master File. In fact, audits have shown that since the file was created in 1980, more than 500,000 people have been pronounced dead prematurely.

Gone but not forgotten:

  • The Social Security Administration receives about 2.5 million death records annually, from a variety of sources. They say that the error rate is very low; errors mainly occur when a close relative dies, or when someone else with the same last name passes away.

  • The Death Master File was created to help prevent fraud. If you find that you’ve died unexpectedly, contact your local Social Security office to begin the arduous process of resolving the situation.

  • On a related note, the SSA found in 2016 that -- incredibly -- 6.5 million Americans aged 112 and older still had active Social Security numbers.

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