She’s not dead: Tennessee widow trying to get her 2020 refund, stimulus checks after social security number error


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The pandemic has forced the temporary closure of many federal offices and that’s caused a big problem for a Knoxville woman trying to contact the Internal Revenue Service.

The IRS has rejected her tax refund for the year 2020 — and sent her a letter that says her social security number belongs to a deceased person. She called WATE 6 On Your Side to share the difficulty in contacting the IRS to resolve this issue.

She’s written, sent email messages, called the IRS trying to resolve her issue — but no luck. What she wants is her modest income tax return and the last two stimulus checks.

But first, she has to convince the IRS that she is alive.

Kathi Hollander is meticulous, she’s an accountant and has been for nearly 30 years. When her husband Bryan Jones passed away two years ago, she was very careful when it came to filing her income taxes for 2019, the year her husband died.

“I filed my 2019. I did my due diligence and I put on my tax return I was the surviving spouse. My husband had passed,” Kathi Hollander said. “…I got my refund.”

Later, when she went to file her 2020 taxes — she was sent a rejection letter through the IRS’s e-file account. The note said the Social Security number provided belonged to a deceased individual.

“The reason for being rejected was that the Social Security Administration had me as the deceased spouse, and not my husband,” Kathi Hollander said.

A similar issue occurred with a different case, this time involving a local widower.

In February, Michael Sisson told us about an issue he had with the IRS similar to Kathi Hollander’s. His income tax return had been rejected twice. Mike’s wife Tracy passed away from cancer in November of 2019. He sent the IRS this certified copy of his wife’s death certificate.

WATE 6 On Your Side contacted the Social Security office in Oak Ridge and a representative got in touch with Michael.  Social Security made sure that the IRS understood that Mr. Sisson is not deceased — that his social security number is active. By the end of March, the IRS received the information and Michael was getting his return.

Kathi Hollander says her first contact was getting in touch with the Social Security Office in Knoxville.

“Called that number, they called me right back.  They do not have me as deceased, they have it correct. They have my husband as deceased,” Kathi Hollander said. “…They tell me to contact the IRS. I called the local office. You get a recording that they are not open and they give you another number to call to make an appointment. And, I’ve called and called and pushed every button there is to push. I just get the response that they are unable to assist me at this time.”

Kathi says in their message to her, the IRS said she could also write to them — she did.

“I’ve written the local office a couple of times and it’s certified and I have not heard anything from the internal revenue,” she said.

She’s received neither her refund for 2020 nor the last two federal stimulus checks.

“I understand they are busy but to not being able to contact them anyway – through the mail, online, telephone calls …. is … that’s their job. That’s their job,” she said. “See, I don’t care to sit on hold if it’s busy or they tell me I’m twentieth in line. But there is not even a line to get in.”

The Social Security Administration handles the master list of who died in the United States which then the government compares to tax returns. Social Security was able to get the issue resolved for Michael Sisson because a letter was provided to the IRS showing he was alive.

Kathi’s next step is to get back in touch with the Social Security office and request a letter saying their records show she is not deceased. It’s a complicated process and made even more difficult to navigate because of the pandemic.

We’ll let you know what Kathi learns.

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