NH - To IRS, Man is Too Dead to Collect...He's Alive and Well, But Can't Get His Refund

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Title: To IRS, man is too dead to collect

He's alive and well, but can't get his refund

Wednesday, March 29, 2000

By JONATHAN FAHEY Monitor staff


Clarence Ruden, 74, a retired draftsman, is feeling pretty good these days. He's got the odd health problem - circulation trouble in his legs - but he's looking forward to starting another season as a volunteer broom maker at Shaker Village next week.

To the Internal Revenue Service, this is a miracle the likes of which hasn't been witnessed in a couple of millennia: Ruden, according to the IRS, is dead.

"All of a sudden they just pulled me out of the air and decided I was deceased," Ruden said Monday, loud and clear.

Ruden already has his name carved in a headstone - he had it done when his wife Katherine died - but he isn't ready to give up the ghost just yet. "I'd like to think I've still got a few years left," he said.

Temporary invisibility from the IRS might be welcome by those who are expected to send the government a hefty check in about two weeks, but Ruden is expecting a refund.

It was when he got tired of waiting for it that he discovered the IRS had written him off.

Ruden filed his return Feb. 9 and he was thinking it was about time he got his money, so he called the IRS last Thursday. "At first I got California, then Texas and then Tennessee. I was on the phone for an hour and a half that day," he said. "They told me there was a glitch in my 1040 and also that I was deceased."

"I had to sit down when they said that," he said.

After establishing his vitality, he and the IRS representative tried to sort out the problem. Ruden initially thought he had made a mistake on last year's return - his wife had passed away in November 1998 and he was afraid he misidentified who died.

But the IRS representative said the only way it gets information about deaths is from the Social Security Administration.

Ruden pored over his return with a tax accountant and neither of them could find anything wrong. Monday, Ruden called Social Security to find out whether he had dropped off its rolls, too.

Not so, according to a representative. "As far as I can tell, you're very much alive," she told Ruden.

"I know that," he said to her. "I'm talking to you."

Together, they called the IRS. This time, after some confusion and a couple of transferred calls, the IRS said there was no problem with his tax return and, as all the evidence indicated, he was still among the living.

IRS spokeswoman Peggy Riley said yesterday she couldn't be sure what the reason was for the mix-up. "It doesn't happen very often," she said. "I hope it was a case of transposed numbers."

Riley said the IRS representative Ruden spoke with last week may have typed in a wrong Social Security number and called up the records of someone who had died.

Ruden is unconvinced. He'd like to see a letter from the IRS confirming that it considers him alive, partly because he's afraid word will get around and Social Security might stop sending him his checks. Ruden draws a federal pension, too, and wants to make sure that keeps coming.

"I still don't trust (them)," he said. "I'll have to wait and see if I'll stay deceased or if I'll be resurrected. I figure if I get my refund check, I'm off the hook."

Ruden's predicament provided a little comic relief over the weekend at Canterbury United Community Church when the Rev. William Daniels told his congregation the government thought Ruden was dead even as he sat in church. "There were 70 people in church, and they all laughed hard," he said. "A lot of people got a laugh out of it."

But Ruden still doesn't have his check and to him, that's not too funny. "My refund was only $284," he said. "I could use that, though, and I don't like being called deceased."

Until he gets that check, Ruden said he will consider himself in limbo. "The screw-up is still there, and as far as I'm concerned I'm still deceased," he said. "At least until I hear otherwise."

(Jonathan Fahey can be reached at 528-2027 or by e-mail at jfahey@cmonitor.com)



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