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‘I am not dead:’ Daughter works to prove mother is alive, IRS fixes issue

Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 4:37 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 9, 2021 at 6:34 PM EST
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HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - The daughter of a Henrico woman wants the IRS and the Social Security Administration to know her 98-year-old mother “is alive and well, she is a good citizen,” after receiving a document saying she is deceased.

Lena Saunders lives in her home, her daughter Crystal Smith-Johnson, doing her best to care for her mother daily. Saunders was once a showgirl in New York City and danced at the Apollo Theater.

In 2014, her husband passed away, and since then, Smith-Johnson has been her power of attorney, filing Saunders taxes with no issue.

“This year, all of a sudden when we filed taxes, [our accountant] has some difficulty putting in her information so she could receive her return,” said Smith-Johnson. “[We got a letter] saying the person we are filing for is deceased and I that I needed to get with social security to fix the problem.”

Smith-Johnson says calls to both the IRS and Social Security Administration ended with being told she would be called back, but she has been waiting weeks for a response. The IRS says the issue is with Social Security Administration, and the Social Security Administration says the IRS is responsible.

“Social security assures me that they know she is alive,” she said. “It is almost like a tennis match, and I am the ball, or she is the ball actually and they want to say ‘no it’s not mine--no it’s not mine,’ nobody is giving me any answers.”

Thinking of ways to prove her mother is still alive, Smith-Johnson had her mother’s doctor write a letter to the government agencies, to help their case. She was told when she requested the letter, their situation is something the doctor’s office has seen and had to help with before.

“What paperwork do you have that tells you that she is deceased? I never got a death certificate because she is here,” she said.

While they work for full answers and written documentation to provide evidence that Lena Saunders is alive, Smith-Johnson is worried her mother’s social security income will be impacted.

“If that money stops going to the bank that means her account, every time I pay for things, her food her drugs, going to the doctor, just the everyday things, electric, her phone--that money is going to go away and I won’t be able to do anything that I need to do to take care of her,” Smith-Johnson explained.

When three rounds of stimulus checks were distributed, Saunders’ first check was deposited, but Smith-Johnson says she has not seen the other two. This furthered her concern about her mother being declared deceased on paper.

“If they think she is not alive, then why would they send it to her? I remember she got the first one but I kept going back to her account to see if she got them and I didn’t see them,” she said. “I want what is rightfully hers, and for them to not give me letters saying this person is deceased because it is not so.”

The family continues to wait, frustrated by the situation, but Lena Saunders says one thing is undeniable.

“All know is, I am not dead,” said Saunders.

NBC 12 On Your Side Investigators reached out to both the IRS and Social Security media lines. The IRS recommended Smith-Johnson make an appointment at the closest IRS office to speak to someone face to face about the issue.

A public affairs specialist with the Social Security Administration got in touch via phone with Smith-Johnson. She tells NBC 12 the Social Security employee assured them it will get fixed. Smith-Johnson later reached back to you to share the issue ended up being with the IRS.

“The IRS locked her account. They have unlocked it. She is no longer “deceased.” They were very apologetic,” she said. “Thank you for connecting me with the person that was able to clear up this situation.”

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