Ask the Probate Judge—SSA & IRS Letter Forwarding Programs
Rudd, appeared May 25, 2006, Albuquerque Journal, Business Outlook
Reprinted with permission
Editor's note: This column may not be quoted or reproduced in whole or part without express written permission of the author.
Q: Your column about the shares of missing heirs said that the Social Security Administration or IRS can help find missing heirs. Can you explain that process? Thank you. B.C.A., Albuquerque
The Social Security Administration (SSA) or Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will not give you someone's address without his or her permission. But both agencies have a "letter forwarding service" that can be used to attempt to contact a missing person. I used the IRS's service long ago to successfully locate two missing heirs.
These agencies will help in limited circumstances that do not interfere with their regular business. You must give a good reason to forward the letter, such as a death or serious illness in the missing person's immediate family, or a large amount of money that is due the missing person.
SSA does not charge to forward letters with a humanitarian purpose. SSA charges a non-refundable $25 fee to cover costs when the letter is informing the missing person about money or property due him or her.
SSA reviews each letter that they forward to ensure that it will not embarrass the missing person if read by a third party. Letters sent for forwarding should be in a plain, unstamped, unsealed envelope that only shows the missing person's name.
SSA needs the missing person's social security number or identifying information to help find the SSA number. Identifying information would include the person's date and place of birth, the father's name, and the mother's full birth name.
Requests to SSA must be in writing. Include the missing person's name and identifying information; your reason for wanting to contact the missing person; the last time the person was seen; and information about other attempts to contact the person.
Mail requests to Social Security Administration Letter Forwarding, P.O. Box 33022, Baltimore, MD 21290-3022. If you have questions about SSA's letter forwarding service, call the toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 or visit the web site at http://www.ssa.gov.
The IRS will help employers, state agencies, commercial locator services, individuals, attorneys, estate administrators, or others who directly control assets to try to locate a missing person, while safeguarding the privacy rights of the taxpayer who is sought.
The IRS's Letter-Forwarding Program helps individuals who have the social security numbers of the person they wish to contact, but whose address or whereabouts currently are unknown to the inquirer.
For humanitarian purposes, which include financial entitlement, the IRS will search its database for a recent address and forward the inquirer's letter to the missing person. Like the SSA, the IRS needs a good reason to cooperate, such as a matter of life and death and entitlements to assets. The IRS will not help locate a party to pending litigation, for service of process, or for genealogical searches.
IRS employees may screen letters submitted for forwarding to make sure they meet one of its purposes. The IRS may also charge a fee for its letter forwarding service, but does not charge for all searches.
For confidentiality reasons, the SSA or IRS will not inform the inquirer about the results of any searches. Letters intended for individuals for whom the IRS has no current records and letters forwarded by IRS and then returned as undeliverable are destroyed without informing the inquirer of the action taken.
IRS Policy Statement P-1-187 provides details about information to include in the cover letter to the IRS and the letter to the missing person, as well as sample letters. Or visit the IRS web site, http://www.irs.gov/.
© 2006, Merri Rudd & Albuquerque Journal, All Rights Reserved