Do Not Make the Check Payable to the Deceased

February 28, 2021
Probate
General Law
Title 19 Benefits

I have written on this topic, previously.  However, given the calls my office is getting, I think it bears repeating, especially since Iowa experienced over 35,500 deaths in 2020, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.  In our culture, we send a card to the family when someone dies.  Generally, we have this conversation in our head when we are trying to determine whether or how to provide a monetary gift.  "If I put in cash, then I must worry about it getting lost in the mail, if I mail it, or  who is going to open the card and maybe pocket the cash, if I deliver it in person.  IfI write a check, to whom should I make it out; there are three children.  If I make it out to one of them, maybe it will not get shared or used to help pay for expenses.  I know; I will make out to John or to John’s Family. Problem solved."  Problem Created.

There is no checking account called “John’s Family.”  So that check cannot get cashed.   John’s checking account has been frozen,likely, unless John had a joint account with someone else, in which case, you have given the money to that person.  So,making a check out to John, after John has crossed the threshold to the otherside is a poor choice, as well.   Ultimately, the family is left with a handful of checks they cannot cash and do not know what to do with.  My suggestion, “return the checks to the people who wrote them with a note stating that you appreciate the gesture but cannot cash the check and could they please send a new check in the name of________” is often met with an eye roll followed by a head drop and shake.  These checks just get shredded and the checkwriter is left with an uncashed check until he or she contacts the family andare ultimately informed it could not be cashed and was destroyed.

Making a check out to the spouse is generally acceptable,unless your gift is large and the spouse is a Medicaid recipient.  In that case, you may be causing a Medicaid Eligibility issue…. I KNOW, who thought this would be so difficult!   If there is no spouse, consider asking someone in the family to whom they would like the memorial check made out.  Problem solved.