TN 3 (01-17)

GN 03315.010 Disclosing a Deceased Individual’s Information

A. Disclosure of tax return information

Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), 26 U.S.C. 6103, prohibits disclosure of “return information” (any information taken from a Federal tax return), unless specifically authorized by that section. The IRC protects the confidentiality of tax return information after death. For more information about the disclosure of tax return information of deceased individuals, see GN 03320.020. For information about the definition of tax return information, see GN 03320.001D.1.

B. Disclosure of non tax return information

1. Non tax return information

Under both the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act (PA), privacy rights end at death Therefore, with the exceptions noted below in GN 03315.010B.2., we may disclose any non tax return information from our records about a deceased individual to any party. This includes the SSN as well as the date of death. For information about the definition of non-tax return information, see GN03320.001D.2.

We frequently receive requests for genealogical information related to a deceased individual’s records, such as the place of birth and parents’ names listed on the original Application for a Social Security Card (Form SS-5). Direct individuals who request SS-5 information to the FOIA webpage at www.socialsecurity.gov/foia/.

NOTE: We may require payment of a fee to process requests for information for non-program purposes. For more information about fees for non-program purposes, see GN 03311.005E.

2. Exceptions for disclosure of non tax return information

Certain Federal laws prohibit us from disclosing the following non tax return information about a deceased individual.

a. State death information (including fact of death)

Section 205(r) of the Social Security Act (Act) allows us to collect death information from the States. This section of the Act also prohibits disclosure of State death information, including the fact of an individual’s death, if our only source of that information is from a State. When a State is the sole source of death information for a deceased individual, we cannot tell an individual or entity we have such information about that deceased individual. Neither can we use the State death information solely as proof of death to disclose other information about the deceased individual. Section 205(r) of the Act prohibits disclosure of state death information and exempts state death information from the requirements of the FOIA and the PA.

There are certain exceptions under which we may disclose State death data. Section 205(r) of the Act provides that we may share State death data with Federal and State benefit-paying agencies through cooperative reimbursable arrangements. We provide the death data to these agencies through data exchange agreements. We may also provide State death data to Federal and State agencies to conduct statistical and research activities through similar data exchange agreements.

We may also disclose a State report of death to a Number Holder (NH) who requests access to his or her record to resolve an erroneous report of death.

NOTE:  State death information is recorded as a death indicator in the Numident, along with a notation indicating the State that is the source of the information. For more information about State death data on the Numident, see RM 10235.025.

b. Living individual affected

The FOIA and PA protect against invasion of a living individual’s privacy resulting from the disclosure of someone else's information, including that of a deceased individual. Therefore, if disclosure of a deceased individual’s information would affect a living individual’s privacy, we apply the same FOIA and PA requirements as those that apply for disclosure of information about a living individual. This means we would not disclose the deceased individual’s information.

For example, if a widow receives benefits on a deceased NH’s record, we would not disclose the deceased NH’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) because it would easily enable someone to calculate the widow’s PIA, thereby affecting her privacy. For more information about disclosing information that affects a living individual see GN 03315.010C.3.

c. Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Patient (ADAP) records

The laws and regulations concerning ADAP programs greatly limit disclosure of records about living or deceased individuals treated under those programs. For more information about ADAP records, see GN 03301.040B and GN 03315.010C.2.

C. Procedures for releasing non tax information about deceased individuals

1. Facts about Death

If the source of the death information is...

Then...

The Numident, and a notation in the Numident states that the information came from a State, and there is no other evidence of death (e.g., a death certificate) in file,

Do not disclose the fact of death or any other information about the deceased individual.

The Numident, and a notation in the Numident, states that the information came from a State and there is no other evidence of death (e.g., a death certificate) in file, and the death information is necessary to process an application for survivors’ benefits,

Do not disclose the fact of death or any other information about the deceased individual. Obtain a copy of the death certificate before you process the application for benefits.

A death certificate or a funeral director's statement,

Disclose the fact of death, as well as other non tax return information, to any party unless the disclosure affects a living individual.

2. ADAP records

If...

Then...

Disclosure of ADAP records is required by a Federal or State law for the collection of death info or other vital statistics,

NOTE: See the regulations at 42 CFR Section 2.15 for more information.

Consult with the regional Privacy Act Coordinator (PAC). The PAC will contact the regional General Counsel’s office for further guidance concerning the requested disclosure.

Vital statistics laws do not apply to the disclosure of ADAP records,

Any other disclosure of an individual’s ADAP record is subject to the regulations at 42 CFR Section 2.15, which may require a personal representative’s consent. Consult with the regional PAC for guidance.

NOTE:  For more information about ADAP records, see GN 03301.040B.

3. Other non tax return information that affects a living individual

If the information...

Then disclose...

On the deceased individual’s record pertains to or affects a living individual,

Only if the requester may be entitled to information about the affected living individual and a State is not the source of the information.

EXAMPLE 1: X, a retirement beneficiary, dies, leaving no entitled survivors. The funeral home provides a statement of death. ADAP is not involved. We may disclose the fact, date of X's death, his benefit rate, his address, or any other non tax return information, to any party.

EXAMPLE 2: The same facts as Example 1, except that X leaves a widow entitled on his record. Do not disclose X's PIA or retirement benefit rate (except to the widow), since that information would allow the requester to calculate the widow's benefit rate, thus invading her privacy. If the two were living together at his death, do not disclose his address to another party, since that information also pertains to the widow.

NOTE: The requester may provide consent from the living person to receive the deceased’s information if that information is in the living person’s own record.

4. SS-5 of deceased individual

Members of the public frequently request a copy of a deceased individual’s application for an SSN (Form SS-5). We cannot provide the parents’ names unless we have proof of their deaths. A special unit in the Division of Earnings & Business Services, Office of Earnings and International Operations, Office of Central Operations, processes these requests. Send requests to:

Social Security Administration
OEIO FOIAWorkgroup
6100 Wabash Avenue
P.O. Box 33022
Baltimore MD 21290-3022

5. Disclosure to funeral home directors

Funeral home directors may request disclosure or verification of a deceased individual’s SSN. Unless we have a death indicator on the record from a source other than a State, privacy protections continue to apply to the record and to the requested disclosure. We may only provide the funeral home director the requested information if we have proof that the individual is deceased from a source other than the State.


To Link to this section - Use this URL:
http://policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0203315010
GN 03315.010 - Disclosing a Deceased Individual's Information - 01/06/2017
Batch run: 01/06/2017
Rev:01/06/2017