East Bay widow can't get tax refund until she proves death of husband

ByMichael Finney and Randall Yip KGO logo
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Widow can't get tax refund until she proves husband's death
Irene filed her 2019 tax returns electronically shortly after her husband's death. Five months later, she was still waiting for her tax refund.

CLAYTON, Calif. (KGO) -- A Clayton woman found herself anxiously waiting for the tax refund she needed to pay for her husband's funeral. Five months after filing her taxes electronically, she reached out to 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney for help.

The U.S. Marines buried Corporal Joseph Cleary with full military honors. His widow Irene clutched the flag from that service.

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"It was a very beautiful, beautiful ceremony. I am so grateful to the Marine Corp for the lovely ceremony," said Irene Cleary.

Joseph died in February, right before the pandemic. His service didn't happen until last month due to safety protocols.

"It does give you closure to do that and they're so wonderful," his wife said.

She says her husband Joseph loved his grandkids. He would even travel the world following his bronze medal-winning Olympian grandson as he competed in diving events for Team USA.

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Odie Cruz's wife died in February and left behind a debit card loaded with disability benefits. Unlocking those benefits proved difficult.

Irene filed her 2019 tax returns electronically shortly after her husband's death. Five months later, she was still waiting for her tax refund. Her tax accountant called the IRS.

"They needed to have proof that my husband had passed away and instead of asking me for a death certificate, they're still waiting for Social Security to verify that he had died in February," Irene said.

That's when she reached out to 7 On Your Side. We reached out to the Social Security Administration and the IRS.

"I tell you, 7 On Your Side carries some power with it, because the Social Security office called me immediately," she said.

Social Security told her it confirmed it had updated Irene's record. They suggested she contact the IRS.

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The IRS declined to comment on the case, but said it works with the Social Security database to confirm a death.

"So yes, hopefully soon," it told us.

And that's what happened.

"And four days after you spoke with them, I got my check. So I was doing a happy dance at that point," said Irene.

She received a refund of $4,400, enough to pay off her husband's funeral.

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Unfortunately, we couldn't talk her into recreating that dance for us. "Ha ha, I think I'm going to spare you that!"

We've checked back and most viewers who contacted us back in June about their tax refunds have since received them. The IRS is still urging patience as they say operations are still not back to normal due to the pandemic.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.