Dear Harry:

I'm sure our problem is not unique. Our father died in February. My mother lives in a retirement community in Florida. She is 81 and not in the best of health. Apparently, she never notified Social Security of his death. Both her SS and his SS have been direct-deposited in their joint checking account. We just found out about this, and we don't know what to do.

She certainly didn't do this with the intent to deceive anyone. She has enough money to pay it all back, but we hope to be able to avoid any kind of penalty. What should we do?

What Harry says: I agree your situation is not unique. There is no need for her to panic, either. They won't seek a jail sentence, and probably not even ask for interest on the repayment. However, you should contact the SS office nearest to where she lives and notify them of the problem. They will make the necessary arrangements for her repayment. I like the idea of an immediate repayment rather than a protracted schedule. Assuming that her SS is based upon his earnings, she will only have to pay back the smaller amount for the period of the double payment. If her SS is based on her own earnings, the repayment will be the amount of his SS.

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