State (WI) Tax Refund Check made out to... estate of me.
November 17, 2017 4:21 PM   Subscribe

My husband passed in January. I filed taxes late this year, and only recently got the refund check. Which is made out to.... "The estate of [my name]". The bank won't cash it. What do I do?

My accountant doesn't know - he said he's never run into it, but I should try contacting the state to ask if they'll reissue it. I did not go to probate as there was no will and I was the spouse with no dependents, thus any assets have gone directly to me (Wisconsin law, I believe).

The check is around $800. I filed jointly as we always did. This was 2016 taxes and husband died in 2017.

I suspect the error was that they wanted to make the check out to his estate, but I'm not clear why, as I'm still alive. But I guess the part that confuses me the most is that technically I believe I am the estate of me, right? I'm just not dead. (I'm not a lawyer, so I'm probably very wrong.) The bank says it doesn't matter that it's to the "Estate of [my name]", anytime there is an estate of check, it has to go to an account set up for that estate.

I know I'm likely going to have to contact the state, but ugh, I am hoping for a plan or some idea of what I might need to do. I'm worried they'll reissue it to my husband's estate, which will complicated things because then I'll have to go to probate on THAT. Plus, filing jointly, I'm still not sure why it wouldn't just be made out to me. The only thing was that I was only working two weeks that year, so the refund really was likely mostly his. But would that matter?

(Complicating things, I really could use that money right now, and ugh.... this is going to take time, isn't it?)

Thus far I've really only needed his death certificate to show he is deceased, and from there everything has just automatically gone to me. I don't want to do probate if I don't have to.

Any thoughts, ideas, suggestions on how to resolve this would be appreciated.
posted by [insert clever name here] to Work & Money (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Call the state ASAP, they probably have to deal with this sort of thing pretty often. They may want some paperwork and it may take some time but there's probably an established way of handling this that you can go through without too much hassle.
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:53 PM on November 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

It sounds like the State just made a mistake. Call them, tell them about the error, make sure they know you're alive, ask if they need to see the spouse's death certificate, ask if they want you to give the undeposited check back to them, and maybe they will reissue the check just that easily. I can't think of any reason they would insist on issuing a check to an estate, but if they do, grill them hard about why that's necessary, because they might be confused about the facts, maybe through errors in data entry on their end.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 4:54 PM on November 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

“Estate of” is a very legally relevant term. It often indicates the opposite of the property belonging free and clear to the named person. For example, in Bankruptcy, the property of a person’s bankruptcy estate is typically held by a trustee for the benefit of creditors.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:18 PM on November 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry for your loss, and I am sorry beaucracy has made it even more painful. Is there any reason you can't open an estate account with your bank? Then deposit the cheque and disburse the amount to the heir (you)? I'm surprised the bank was not more helpful, it shouldn't be an unusual situation for them.
posted by saucysault at 5:20 PM on November 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Estate accounts often require an estate — typically probate or trust. Not impossible but not necessarily as easy as just naming a random account.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:22 PM on November 17, 2017

Folks, the check did not come made out to the estate of the deceased spouse--it came made out to the estate of the surviving spouse. My husband passed in January. I filed taxes late this year, and only recently got the refund check. Which is made out to.... "The estate of [my name]". The bank won't cash it. What do I do?

It is most likely a clerical error at the tax office. Call them and ask for the check to be re-issued properly. If they can't handle it over the phone, ask what documentation they need to cancel the check and re-issue it properly.
posted by crush at 5:30 PM on November 17, 2017 [10 favorites]

If you have a good relationship with your bank, they might open an estate account in your husband's name with a death certificate and proof of marriage, but no will or probate.

Then, they might give you the funds without there being probate because you're the spouse and the estate is so small.

It creates a liability for the bank because there might be a beneficiary of the estate that isn't you, but often, they don't worry about that because there's a cost to them of going through the whole process of validating paperwork and such.

Ask to speak with a manager your bank. Or his bank. They should have a procedure for tiny estates that doesn't require the whole estate process. This happens a lot as many couples have the bulk of their assets in joint accounts, so these estates end up being small.
posted by thenormshow at 5:30 PM on November 17, 2017

ooops! Crush has it. The bank won't touch a check made out to the estate of a living person. That's a red flag for check fraud. You'll have to go back to the issuer and get a new one. Sorry!
posted by thenormshow at 5:32 PM on November 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

Yeah sorry I wasn’t clear, just trying to explain and not advise. You should imo get another check
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:46 PM on November 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I called the Wisconsin treasury this spring about what turned out to be me having a stupid misunderstanding about my tax refund and they were very nice about it on the phone. I'd encourage you to just call them and see what they say.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 6:06 PM on November 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

You undoubtedly have a local Department of Revenue office--according to the web, the Milwaukee office is (608) 266-2772. I knew a guy that did that for years. He was the nicest man you'll ever meet.

Call them on the phone and explain the situation and they'll fix it. Might take a little while, but they really have no interest in making your life miserable.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 8:21 PM on November 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had a similar issue, with WI State Tax refunds and a deceased person with no formal estate.

1. If the check is made out to YOU? That's incorrect, and should be changed.

2. If the check is indeed made out to 'Estate of Deceased'? That is correct. I think I had to submit both a Death Certificate, and a certification that I was the Executrix of the Estate. They then put a special stamp on check, mailed it back to me, and I had to sign that stamp, saying it was payable to me, as a Third Party Check.

I then took it to my Credit Union, where I had opened a special account just for Estate stuff. They let me deposit it then, but they also had me wait 20 days or so, to make sure that the check cleared.

(The CU would only let me open an account if I had a Letter of Testamentary, which I didn't have.)
posted by spinifex23 at 11:16 PM on November 17, 2017

I work for a state tax agency (not Wisconsin). The best thing to do is just call them or walk in and explain the situation. Bring the bad check if you go in person. But yes, it may take a little bit of time to get it sorted out.
posted by asciident at 11:16 PM on November 17, 2017

I had a lot of contact with the WI Dept of Revenue for a totally different situation. I found that while the people on the phone were nice, fax was the best way to get things done. If you don't have access to a fax machine, HelloFax is a perfectly good website that lets you upload PDFs and other docs from your computer and they fax them for you. Wait 3-5 business days and call them if you don't get anything in the mail or a phone call (they won't fax back IIRC).
posted by AFABulous at 6:50 AM on November 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

If the check is made out to your estate and you aren’t deceased, it’s a mistake. Call them up on Monday!
posted by 41swans at 11:35 AM on November 18, 2017

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