One summer, between my freshman and sophomore year of college, I worked in a bank — a bank vault to be exact. I had three duties. I allowed people access to their safe deposit boxes. I filed historical records. And daily, I read the obituaries in the city’s two newspapers. My job was to compare the list of names in the paper with those of our customers. If I found a match, the account was closed and none of the deceased’s nearest and dearest, including someone who held the account jointly, had access to the assets. Too bad for the survivor who had to go on paying the mortgage and purchasing food.
That summer job is when I learned that a close association with the dead could be fatal. Wives, particularly, would wring their hands and explain to me they needed to enter the vault because their husband’s will was in their safety deposit box. As touching and understandable as their stories were, my job was to steele my heart. When a person had died, assets were frozen until the court said otherwise.
In “The Final File,” Mikey Burton uncovers some inconvenient truths with regard to death and social security. (New Republic, 9/10 2015 pgs. 4-5) Once pronounced dead by a government computer, the person identified as such must stay dead — even if he or she just finished a hamburger with fries — until someone in authority decides otherwise. Worse, the social security number retires with the deceased, which means that person hasn’t enough identity to buy a burial plot.
According to the U. S. inspector general’s office, the Death Master File is sorely out of whack. Of no consequence to them but, according to official records, 6.5 million of the dead haven’t been notified of their status, are officially alive and some of them appear to be collecting social security. (Naughty, naughty) Turn the coin over and you’ll discover the number of those living but pronounced dead is unknown. Recently, TV program, 60 Minutes, did a segment on a few who have been cast into the twilight zone. According to them, getting out of that Death Master File takes more than showing up at the social security office and pricking your thumb to draw blood. In fact, the amount of paperwork required to revive your social security number and be born again is heart stopping.
Knowing the symbiotic relationship between you and your social security number should make you to feel sentimental about those 9 digits. When it goes… Well, you’re deader than dead. You’re hopelessly dead.
The same can’t be said for these blogs, however. As there’s no permanent way to erase my virtual reality, I’m virtually immortal. I can thumb my nose at the Death Master File.
(Orginally published 10/15/15)