The Moneyist: I received my ex-husband’s $1,200 stimulus check because we filed joint taxes in 2018. Should I keep the money, give it to him or return it to the IRS?

The Moneyist

‘I don’t want to give it over now, only to receive an overpayment letter later, and have to pay it back’

The Moneyist answers dilemmas in an age of coronavirus.

Dear Moneyist,

I received my ex-husband’s stimulus money because we filed joint tax returns in 2018. Do I give this to him or wait for the Internal Revenue Service to take it back? It’s hard to see the IRS saying, “Hey, go ahead and pass it along,” so I just want to cover my bases. I don’t want to give it over now, only to receive an overpayment letter later, and have to pay it back.

How is this handled?

Veronica

Dear Veronica,

Approximately half of Americans have received their stimulus checks thus far, and you are one of the lucky ones. Assuming you have a cordial relationship with your ex-husband — or as cordial as one can expect when a divorce — I suggest reaching out to him before he reaches out to you. He will appreciate it, I’m sure, and figure out soon enough why he didn’t receive his stimulus check.

The IRS does not have penalties for people who have NOT returned money sent the agency in error, but it has straightforward rules on what you should with such money. The agency says stimulus checks sent to dead people should be returned. (That’s a no-brainer.) In your case? If your former spouse needs the money now, you could agree to give him half or return it to the IRS.

Dispatches from a pandemic:Letter from New York: ‘New Yorkers wear colorful homemade masks, while nurses wear garbage bags.’

The IRS is experiencing severe staff shortages, but it will (likely) send you a notice within 15 days of receiving this money and will provide a phone number for people who either received too little an economic impact payment, too much or nothing at all. It’s unclear how the IRS will handle a case such as yours, if you did not contact the agency. It could deduct it from your 2020 tax return, or not.

It’s not an ideal situation and may require not a small amount of trust between you and your ex. Look at it this way: It’s an opportunity to show this man some post-divorce goodwill and, perhaps, help each other out during the pandemic. Start by hitting up your ex-husband with Honesty, Integrity and Transparency and — to quote an internet 1.0 click-bait headline — “See what happens next…”

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

Want to read more?Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here

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