TN 36 (07-21)

GN 02215.050 Liability of Deceased's Estate

A. Policy

If a debtor is deceased, the decedent's estate is liable for refund (GN 02205.001B.).

If estate funds are distributed without satisfaction of the decedent's indebtedness, liability for repayment may shift to the administrator or legal representative of the estate (GN 02215.055) or to the distributes or legatees of the estate (GN 02215.070).

Recovery from an estate will be explored only if the deceased individual's total outstanding overpayment balance is $3,000 or more and cannot be recovered in full from:

  • An underpayment, regardless of earnings record, due on behalf of the deceased, or

  • Benefits payable to another person receiving payment on the same earnings record. (The priority of recovery in GN 02210.015 applies without regard to the amount outstanding.)

B. Estate development - PC

Attempt to obtain all development by direct telephone contact with the appropriate court. Initiate development no earlier than 60 days after the death of the deceased and no later than 2 years after the death. If more than two years have elapsed, terminate collections in accordance with GN 02215.235C, unless adjustment can be proposed against benefits due other persons on the record at the time of the overpayment (GN 02210.015). REMINDER: All debts over $100,000 must be referred to DOJ for a suspension or termination decision.

Use the Internet site (GN 02215.050B.1.) to locate the name of the county (needed for contact with the appropriate court) and SSA’s Digital Library (GN 02215.050B.2.) to locate the telephone number for that court.

Note: Some states may have their probate courts linked by town or city government instead of by county. If you are unsuccessful in finding a court through the county court search, pursue development by town or city government.

1. County Locator

Enter the Zip Code of the debtor’s last known address and click SEARCH. The County will be listed at the top of the page.

2. ReferenceUSAGov

To locate the telephone number of the appropriate court, use ReferenceUSAGov, located here:

  • Click the Start Search button next to U.S. Businesses.

  • Select the Advanced Search tab below the Enter Search Criteria header.

  • Check the following criteria from the side bar: Company Name (under Company Name/EIN); County (under Geography); and Government Office (under Ownership).

  • Under the Company Name header, type court in the text box and click the Add button.

  • Under the County header, select a state from the drop-down box, and click the appropriate county from the list.

  • Under the Government Office header, select County and Municipal. Return to the top of the screen and click the View Results button. (NOTE: The term court may not always return results. If you receive a “0 records found” alert when you run your search, return to the Company Name section, type the word clerk, click the Add button, and search again. It is not necessary to remove the word court from the list.)

  • Find the Probate Court entry and call that number in order to determine if an estate exists.

  • If there is no entry for the Probate Court, click on the general County Court or County Clerk listing. If there is a link to the County's official Web site, click through and look for the Contact section. There may be a direct line for the Probate Court listed.

  • If you are still unable to find contact information for the Probate Court, call one of the other court numbers provided in the search results. The County Clerk, if listed in the results, will be able to direct you to the appropriate office.

3. Successful court phone contact

If the court indicates that an estate exists, obtain the following information:

  • The date the estate will be settled.

  • The names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the executor or administrator of the estate, attorney, if any, and the clerk of the court.

  • The amount of the assets of the estate.

  • The probate/case number.

  • The name and phone number of your contact.

Document the results of the contact in DMS Remarks. Follow GN 02215.055 for further actions.

IMPORTANT: If a court indicates there is an estate but a fee is required before any information is released, refer to the FO for the next action if the overpayment amount is $3,000 or more.

4. Unsuccessful court phone contact

Some courts are refusing to provide information over the phone. If unable to convince the court to release the information over the phone, prepare a written request for the information needed (GN 02215.050B.3.) on PC letterhead. Include a postage paid direct contact return envelope. Establish a 60-day follow-up diary via the DRDY screen (MSOM DMS 006.021) Diary Code 5. Input the following message to the MBR “Estate Development Letter sent to probate court. See DMS Remarks.” Annotate the DMS Remarks with the court information of where the letter was sent.

When the diary matures, determine the status of the estate. If no response received from the probate court when the diary matures, send a second written request. If no response is received from the second request, and the debt is $20,000 or more, refer to the FO for the next action. If the debt is less than $20,000, pursue recovery from any other person (s) on the same earnings record, where appropriate, or terminate collection efforts if there is no such person(s).

5. No estate or estate closed

If the court or FO development indicates there is no estate or the estate is closed and funds can not be traced to distributes, follow GN 02215.070.

C. Estate development - FO

The FO will be involved in estate development when:

  1. 1. 

    A court refuses to provide information unless SSA pays a fee. The FO has the option to either pay the fee or contact the court and attempt to get the information without payment.

  2. 2. 

    The debt exceeds $20,000 and the PC was unable to obtain any information from the court regarding the existence of an estate.

  3. 3. 

    The FO becomes aware of the death of a debtor. For example, the debtor has filed a waiver request and additional information is needed, or a LSDP or a survivor award is filed in the FO. In such situations, check the MBR and DMS Remarks to see if the PC is aware of the death and, therefore, has already (or will) initiate estate development. If so, no further FO action is required unless the PC asks for specific help. If there is no indication that the PC is aware of the death, advise the PC accordingly and indicate that you will initiate estate development.

    In the above situations, secure the following information from survivors or the appropriate court:

  • The existence and size of any estate, and

  • Whether an administrator has been or will be appointed.

If an estate exists and will be administered, obtain the:

  • Date the estate will be settled, names, telephone numbers and addresses of the administrator and the clerk of the court.

  • Assets of the estate.

  • Name of the court handling the case and the probate case number.

Verbally inform the administrator of the outstanding overpayment and the estate’s liability for repayment. Inform the PC whenever there is a delay of more than 6 months in appointing an administrator or settling an estate.

If the survivor(s) indicates that a legal representative will not be appointed because the estate is too small:

  • Question the survivor(s) regarding possible assets (e.g., cash stocks, bonds, equity in a business, etc.) and

  • Check the records of the appropriate court for a record of the estate and its assets.

NOTE: Contact with the local tax assessor’s office may identify an asset (e.g., house and /or other property) that DOJ could attach if subsequent civil suit is appropriate.

Document the results of your development in DMS Remarks and forward all development to the PC.

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GN 02215.050 - Liability of Deceased's Estate - 12/21/2018
Batch run: 07/29/2021