Not-So-Dead Man's Family Has to Pay Back Benefits, Gov't Insists

By Brett Snider, Esq. on August 19, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Relatives of a living man who was legally declared dead have been told they must pay back the benefits they received from his "death."

Donald Miller Jr. was declared legally dead in 1994 and again in 2013, but the 62-year-old Ohio resident is still very much alive. According to The Courier of Findlay, once the Social Security Administration learned of Miller's not-so-dead status, it demanded repayment of death benefits paid to his children, totaling more than $47,000.

How can Miller be legally dead but still alive enough for his children to owe the SSA money?

SSA Wanted: Dead or Alive

Miller disappeared from his family's lives in 1986 and was ruled legally dead in 1994. But much to his children's and the government's surprise, he was very much alive when he returned to Ohio in 2005. Wanting his life back (including Social Security Number and driver's license), Miller petitioned the Ohio probate court to overturn its 1994 death ruling. But in 2013, a judge ruled that Miller must remain legally dead since the statute of limitations on his resurrection had lapsed.

But apparently the Social Security Administration disagrees with the judge's ruling, because they still want their money for Miller's death benefits. The Courier reports that Miller's two daughters received $100 per week in death benefits until they turned 18, accumulating around $28,700 and $18,500 each.

Children who survive those who were entitled to Social Security benefits may be allowed to claim them -- unless they were conceived after a parent's death. In the Miller children's case, they received and likely spent the balance of their survivors' benefits years before their father returned from the grave. According to the Courier, the SSA will extract these benefits first from Miller's daughters, then his ex-wife, and lasting Miller himself.

If We Haven't Seen Him, He's Dead to Us

The Millers make a fairly cogent point about not paying back the SSA benefits they received as children: Miller was dead to us and the law, so the benefits were rightly distributed. There are a variety of reasons that someone may be denied Social Security benefits, but if there's no evidence of fraud on the behalf of the recipient, it's rare that the SSA asks to be paid back.

The Courier reports that Miller's ex-wife contacted the FBI and even hired a private investigator to look for her missing husband. But she and her kids may still have to pay.

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