TN 14 (07-17)
PR 02905.026 Minnesota
A. PR 17-095 Date of Death Correction
Date: June 9, 2017
The following preferred evidence was used to establish a date of death for E~ and R~:
Based on the evidence as a whole, the Regional Attorney concluded that given the evidentiary conflicts regarding the date of death, the Social Security Administration could reasonably find August XX, 2015 as the date of death for both E~ and R~.
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 2015.
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 visit.
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
. Hereinafter, September XX, 2016, the date police discovered the bodies, will be referred to as the date of discovery.