TN 5 (09-05)

GN 03320.020 Disclosure of Tax Return Information About Deceased Individuals

A. Policy

The confidentiality of tax return information does not end with the death of the subject of the information. Both the Social Security Act and the IRC restrict the disclosure of tax return information about deceased individuals.

When either the Social Security Act or the IRC allows the disclosure of tax return information about deceased individuals, proof of death and proof of the requester's relationship to the deceased person must be established and documented (see GN 03320.020B.). Apply the law that will give the requester the most information based on his/her relationship to the deceased and on the type of information needed.

The following chart explains the particular tax return information that may be disclosed about deceased individuals, to whom the disclosure may be made, and the circumstances under which disclosure may be made.

CITATION

DISCLOSURE

1. Section 205(c)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. §405(c)(2)(A))

This provision of the Social Security Act provides that SSA may only disclose the amounts of wages and self-employment and the periods during which such wages were paid and the income derived. Under this provision, information may only be disclosed to the:

  • legal representative of the deceased person's estate; or

  • deceased individual's survivors (the survivor must be a spouse, divorced spouse, parent or child).

NOTE: The terms “parent” and “child” do not include a stepparent and a stepchild.

2. Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. §6103(e)(3)(B))

Under this provision of law, if material interest which will be affected by the information is established, SSA may disclose any tax return information to the:

  • administrator, executor, or trustee of the estate; or

  • heir at law, next of kin, beneficiary under the will of the decedent, or a donee of property.

The Internal Revenue Service defines material interest as an important (generally financial) interest. This includes entitlement to an insurance annuity or settlement of an estate.

B. Kinds Of Proof

1. Proof of Death

Proof of death may be:

  • a death certificate;

  • letters, testamentary, or other court documents concerning administration of the estate; or

  • information in SSA records, such as a date of death on the Master Beneficiary Record or the Supplemental Security Income Record.

NOTE:

  1. SSA Numident records may contain State death data SSA receives from States pursuant to agreements under section 205(r) of the Social Security Act (Act) (42 U.S.C. §405(r)). These data are generally restricted from disclosure by section 205(r) of the Act, and therefore cannot be used in making a decision about disclosure. A Numident record containing State death data will include the legend, “This record contains State death information which should not be disclosed.” If the only death information in SSA records is 205(r) data, tax return information cannot be disclosed unless the requester submits other acceptable proof of death (see GN 03315.010A.2.a. and GN 03315.010B.1.).

  2. There is no legal requirement that death information in SSA records be verified before using that information in a disclosure situation.

2. Proof of Relationship

Proof of relationship may be:

  • a marriage certificate;

  • birth certificate;

  • a divorce decree; or

  • information in SSA records, such as documentation showing payment of the lump-sum death payment to a surviving spouse.

Depending on the basis for disclosure, proof may be needed to show that the requester:

  • is the legal representative of the estate, or

  • meets the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code (as explained in GN 03320.020A.2.).