The Moneyist: My husband died from COVID-19. Will the IRS allow me to use his $1,200 stimulus check for funeral and medical expenses?

My husband and I filed a joint income-tax return. I am aware that the stimulus check for a husband and wife is $2,400, and it will likely be one check.

Unfortunately, my husband passed away on April 12 from COVID-19, and I have not yet received our stimulus entitlement.

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If I receive the stimulus check issued to both of us, can I just sign it and deposit the check in our bank account, and reimburse the Internal Revenue Service later?

I am planning to ask the IRS to use it to help pay for cremation expenses and hospital bills, which amount to $8,000. I am sure there are other senior citizens who have the same issues as me.

[Name withheld]

Dear Reader,

Thank you for your letter, and for sharing your story. I do hope you have friends or family around you at this time.

It sounds like you are doing the right thing: putting one foot in front of the other, endeavoring to remain practical, and also exploring all of your options to make sure you meet these obligations. Finances are often the last thing friends and relatives of the bereaved think of at a time like this.

There has been confusion around this issue, but I don’t believe you will be able to use this money for funeral expenses or hospital bills. “A payment made to someone who died before receipt of the payment should be returned to the IRS,” the agency says. (You can follow these instructions.)

“Return the entire payment unless the payment was made to joint filers, and one spouse had not died before receipt of the payment, in which case, you only need to return the portion of the payment made on account of the decedent. This amount will be $1,200,” the IRS adds.

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This is a vulnerable time for people who have lost loved ones. The Federal Trade Commission implemented the Funeral Rule in 1984, giving people the right to choose only the goods and services they want or need so that relatives can more easily compare prices among funeral homes.

Believe it or not, there was an amendment to that rule in 1994 forbidding funeral homes from charging a handling fee so consumers don’t get charged extra for bringing in their own caskets from a third-party retailer. I can’t imagine what it’s like to go through this during the pandemic.

Another shocking fact: There is no requirement by law for a funeral provider to list its prices online. This can lead to people getting overcharged at the funeral home. In fact, only 25% of funeral homes provided prices online for consumers, according to a survey by the Funeral Consumers Alliance.

Read readers’ responses to this letter: ‘Not everyone that owes back child support is a deadbeat.’ Is it fair for President Trump to garnish stimulus checks of fathers who are behind on payments?

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat, last week introduced a bill with fellow Democrat California Rep. Barbara Lee to have the federal government pay up to $10,000 for funeral expenses to relatives of those who have died of COVID-19 in recent weeks.

In a statement, Ocasio-Cortez said that people should be able to bury their loved ones with dignity at a time like this: “We know COVID-19 has a disproportionate impact on low-income communities. The absolute least we can do is to help these families bury their loved ones,” she said.

Payments would apply to those who died after Jan. 21, 2020. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has covered funeral expenses for previous disasters. “These families, who are disproportionately black or Latinx, are reeling from grief and economic duress,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

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In the meantime, the IRS has sent out around 130 million economic impact payments, and has millions more to send. Some of these stimulus checks have been mailed to people who have passed on because these payments are going to people who filed taxes in 2019 or, as a Plan B, 2018.

If the payment comes as a paper check, the IRS recommends you write “void” on the back of the check’s endorsement section and mail it back to the IRS. Alternatively, you can write a check or money order for $1,200, and make it out to “U.S. Treasury.”

The agency also says people in your position should write “2020EIP” on the note, as well as the Social Security number or taxpayer identification number of the check recipient and, if possible, include a quick note explaining the reason for returning the check.

Please accept my deepest condolences on the loss of your husband, and please do let me know how you get along.

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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