“I’m Not Dead!” – Elderly Woman’s Desperate Plea After Erroneous Death Listing Upends Her Life

A Glen Burnie resident, Joyce Evans, reached out for help with a story that’s hard to believe. However, what’s happening to her also affects thousands of others across the country every year; it’s a months-long mistake that’s upending her life and putting her health at risk. The federal government mistakenly declares thousands of people dead every year, and Evans’ experience underlines the personal cost of this mistake.

“I don’t know where to go from here. I don’t know,” Evans told the investigative team.

Evans, 89, spent Christmas with her children and grandchildren before waking up the next day to what she thought was a joke. She first received a letter by mail on Dec. 26, 2023, from the Social Security Administration saying she was dead. The next day, her bank closed her account.

The letter read, in part: “We would like to extend our condolences on the passing away of Joyce G. Evans.”

“I thought it was a joke,” Evans told the investigators, very much alive. “The next day, I heard from the bank saying that my account was empty.”

In addition to Social Security and her bank, from the end of December through February, Evans also received letters saying she was cut off from the Internal Revenue Service, Medicare, Blue Cross Blue Shield, her credit cards, and her retirement checks.

“I said, ‘I’m not dead. I’m still alive,’” Evans told the investigators.

This led to overdue bills from the Baltimore Washington Medical Center after Medicare denied paying for a recent procedure because she’s now listed as dead in their records. The hospital now says Evans owes more than $9,000. Then, there’s her water bill: Automatic payments ended when her bank account was shut down. Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works put a flyer on her front door, warning that her water would be turned off within 48 hours if she didn’t pay her bill.

“I freaked out a little bit,” she said. “My other son paid that water bill for me so they wouldn’t turn off my water because I need that for my oxygen equipment.”

Evans has called everyone to get the issue fixed with no luck. Her son has driven her to the Social Security Administration’s Glen Burnie office to address the issue — five times.

“We went to Social Security and I asked the lady, ‘How did this happen?’ And, she said, ‘Well, I guess an employee just hit the wrong button,’” Evans told the investigators. “I said, ‘Who told you I was dead?’ And, she said, ‘Oh, yeah, family members call us and the undertaker calls us, different people call us.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m calling you now and I’m alive.’”

Evans was told to write a letter to get her benefits reinstated, so she did on Jan. 25.

“This one says, I am not deceased. I am still alive. Please reinstate my benefits.” That’s what they told me to write,” Evans told the investigators.

Her benefits have not been reinstated in the three months since.

Evans uses a wheelchair, has a heart problem, and requires an oxygen tank to sleep every night.

She described the emotional toll of this whole experience, saying: “Horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible. I can’t sleep at night constantly worried about these kinds of things. You know, paying the bills. This is not something that they need to do to people. At my age? All my life, I pay my bills all the time, and this is just about killing me.”

Evans’ son, Michael, has become her full-time caregiver since twice weekly nurse visits stopped because the provider doesn’t believe she’s alive. Meanwhile, Evans and her son sit next to a home phone that might be disconnected any day while watching cable TV that could soon be cut off — and they have few solid answers.

After working several decades as a federal employee, Evans said she’s now been cut off from her pension. The amount Evans is owed in retirement benefits since December exceeds $12,000.

“We’re eating a lot of eggs,” Evans told the investigators.

Evans and her son said they only have one clue.

They said someone at the Social Security Administration told them that Evans was mistakenly added to Social Security’s “death master file,” a database that collects someone’s information when they die and notifies other government agencies to terminate benefit payments.

The 2019 version of the death master file acknowledges that “errors in the death-reporting process cause severe disruptions to the financial lives of those who are mistakenly reported as dead.”

This wasn’t a freak accident: A review from the Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration’s death master file in 2021 found roughly 10,000 people were mistakenly declared dead each year between 2013 and 2019.

In response to questions, a representative said in a statement that the SSA can’t discuss individual cases, adding: “We can share that approximately 3.4 million deaths are reported to the Social Security Administration each year. Less than two-thirds of 1% are subsequently corrected.”

When asked about her planned next steps, Evans told the investigators: “I’m definitely going to get a lawyer. I’m going to sue them. I don’t think this is right. I think they need to straighten up their system.”

After the investigators contacted the Social Security Administration about Evans’ situation, she said someone called her that same day. But as she approaches her fourth month without her retirement checks and cut off from her health care, Evans told the investigators she’s starting to run out of her heart medication and can’t get anyone to refill