You asked whether evidence could be used to correct the date of death of number holders
E~ and R~ to August XX, 2015 to pursue reclamation of benefits through the Department
of Treasury. We conclude that August XX, 2015 may be used as the date of death for
both number holders.
According to the records you submitted from the Social Security Office of the Inspector
General (OIG), E~ resided with her twin sons, R~ and R2~. Agency records show that
as a RSDI beneficiary, E~ received $1,340.00 per month while R~ received $1,471.00
per month as a SSDI beneficiary. On September XX, 2016, police were called to the
residence for a welfare check after neighbors had not seen anyone around the house
and noticed the lawn had not been cut in several weeks. Responding officers discovered
the skeletal remains of E~ and R~ in the home. Officers also encountered R2~ residing in the home with the deceased bodies.
After performing autopsies on September XX, 2016, the medical examiner listed the
cause of death for both E~ and R~ as “undetermined.” The date of death is described
in both autopsy reports as “Fd: 9/20/16,” the date of discovery. You indicate that
the State of Minnesota also reported the date of death to be September 20, 2016. Police
records reveal that the medical examiner estimated that E~ and R~ had been dead for
over a year due to the skeletal state of the bodies.
According to police interviews conducted in September and October of 2016, R2~ stated
that he had moved in with his mother and brother in 2014 to serve as their caretaker.
When questioned about the death of his mother, R2~ estimated that she had died in
bed in August 2015. He believed she died of “old age” and that “her heart gave out.”
Initially, R2~ also asserted that R~ had died sometime in April 2015. However, he
later admitted that he was not sure when exactly R~ had died because he often did
not leave the basement due to his disability. R2~ stated that he believed R~ died
from “breathing and health issues.”
R2~ further admitted to police that he used R~’s bank account to write checks from
May 2015 to September 2015. R2~ remembered that a check made out to him from R~’s
account in late April 2015 discovered in a police search of the residence had been
written when R~ was still alive. R2~ later recalled that R~ was still alive in May
2015 because R2~ had taken E~ to the dentist that month. R2~ stated that R~ usually
performed this type of activity for their mother but had been unable to do so because
of his failing health. The bill from the dentist (attached to the police report) confirmed
that E~ had obtained treatment there on May 18, 2015. According to his discussions
with police, R2~ was certain that both R~ and E~ had passed away prior to September
Various neighbors spoke to police and to the media on the date of discovery, disclosing
that they had not seen E~ or R~ for several weeks. Police also contacted a close friend
of R~, who, after checking his travel records, was confident that he had visited with
R~ at their home in late July 2015. The friend did not remember seeing E~ during that
Attached to the police report is a copy of a handwritten Christmas card that R2~ mailed
to his cousins. The cousins confirmed to police that they received this card in December
2016. Despite the fact that the evidence indicates that E~ and R~ had been dead several
months by that time, R2~ related in the card that he had been working in North Dakota
and that his mother and brother still lived at home in Minnesota with a caretaker.
Social Security Regulations and Program Operations Manual System (POMS) provide guidance
regarding acceptable evidence to demonstrate the death of an insured. Pursuant to
the regulations, the best evidence of an individual’s death, or the “preferred evidence,”
includes a certified copy or extract from the public record of death, coroner's report
of death, or verdict of a coroner's jury or a certificate by the custodian of the
public record of death. 20 C.F.R. § 404.720(b); see also POMS GN 00304.005 (Preferred Evidence of Death).
Additionally, proof of death is necessary when, as here, conflicting reports raise
a question about the month or year of death. POMS GN 00304.001(C)(1). When a date of death conflict exists, other evidence for the date of death
should be gathered, including statements of individuals with knowledge about the deceased,
investigations conducted by federal or state agencies and information from the media.
POMS GN 00304.001(D)(3)(a). The date of death can be determined accordingly based upon the evidence
that “most reasonably establishes the date of death.” POMS GN 00304.001(D)(3)(c).
Here, the “preferred evidence” consisting of the medical examiner’s autopsy report
and the state of Minnesota records provide the date of death as September 20, 2016,
the date of discovery. A date of death conflict exists because other evidence you
submitted indicates that E~ and R~ had been deceased for over a year prior to the
date of discovery. POMS GN 00304.001(C)(1). Accordingly, SSA can weigh the conflicting evidence to determine which evidence
reasonably establishes the date of death. POMS GN 00304.001(D)(3)(a)-(c).
As described above, in the instant case, the authorities gathered various statements
from individuals who knew E~ and R~ and examined documentation found at their residence.
The evidence as a whole supports the finding that E~ and R~ died before September
2015. It appears that the medical examiner used the date of discovery as the date
of death because of the advanced decomposition of the bodies. Specifically, police
records reveal that due to the skeletal state of the bodies, the medical examiner
estimated that E~ and R~ had been dead for over a year prior to the date of discovery.
Further, despite providing somewhat inconsistent accounts of the date of death, R~
was certain that both had died before September 2015.
Other evidence you provided also supports date of death prior to the date of discovery.
A dentist bill for services rendered in May 2015, shows that E~ likely died sometime
after May 2015. This is consistent with R2~’s report to police that his mother died
in August 2015. Similarly, one of R~’s close friends reported to police that he visited
with R~ in July 2015. R2~ ultimately indicated that R~ had been alive in May 2015,
but had died before September 2015. Neighbors reported they had not seen them for
several weeks before their bodies were discovered in September 2016. All of this evidence
is consistent with the medical examiner’s estimation that E~ and R~ died over a year
before the date of discovery.
Accordingly, in weighing the evidence, it is reasonable for SSA to accept a date of
death for both number holders that is different from the date of discovery which the
medical examiner used as the date of death in the autopsy report. The instant case
reflected inconsistencies between the date of death in the preferred evidence. Although
the medical examiner and the state of Minnesota use the date of discovery as the date
of death, the medical examiner specifically observed that both number holders had
been dead over a year prior to the date of discovery due to the skeletal nature of
their bodies. The other evidence you submitted, including statements from family and
friends and documentation found in their residence also support a date of death prior
to the date of discovery. Therefore, SSA could reasonably find that E~ and R~'s dates
of death occurred on August XX, 2015 based on the evidence as a whole.
For the reasons discussed above, we conclude that given the evidentiary conflicts
regarding the date of death, SSA could reasonably find August XX, 2015 the date of
death for both E~ and R~.
Regional Chief Counsel
Region V, Chicago
By: Danielle Garcia
Assistant Regional Counsel