It is not unusual to come across conflicting pieces of information for a client. After all, there are bound to be conflicts every now and again when information is often obtained from multiple sources. What happens when that conflicting piece of information is as important as the client’s date of birth?
We once had a woman who had four different dates of birth, depending on which document we reviewed. Medicare and Social Security showed her year of birth as 1926; her Driver’s License had 1928; birth records and census documents showed 1921 (which we believed to be her actual year of birth); and her passport listed her year of birth as 1927. With so many different dates of birth for one person, how do you know which one to use?
We used to believe that it was important to correct the date of birth in all government systems, starting with Medicare and Social Security. We quickly learned this was a bad idea because of all the problems this could cause.
Changing a date of birth in any government system is difficult, but changing a date of birth in a system as large as Medicare and Social Security has far reaching consequences, including:
- All benefits could be recalculated – this includes retiree benefits, along with current and future benefits.
- If Medicare and Social Security had paid her too early, or had paid her too much, she could end up in a situation where she would have to repay these funds.
- Furnishing original documents can be problematic depending on the client and their history.
Furnishing original documents was the difficult part for us in this situation, because we didn’t have any originals for her. To make matters worse, we could not have a conversation with the client about this, because she claimed that she was born in 1928. This was something she was truly stubborn about as she wanted to be younger than she actually was. Changing her year of birth accomplished this in her mind.
After attempting to change a date of birth this first time, we learned a valuable lesson: do not rock the boat. It is better to set up your systems so that you can access the date of birth on file for the specific entity you are working with at the time (Medicare, DMV, Pension Company, etc.). This solution relieves you from having to guess as to what your client may have told them and prepares you with the information readily available.
How to Handle Multiple Birth Dates After Death
Not only problematic while the client is alive, but an incorrect date of birth has far reaching consequences that can affect the client and their family long after the client has passed away.
Let’s revisit the same client who has four different dates of birth depending on the document. After deciding not to change her date of birth within the Medicare and Social Security systems, and after setting up an internal system to use the proper date of birth depending on which agency was being utilized, everything was running smoothly, until the woman passed away.
Upon her passing, the reporters – the nursing home and hospice – informed the funeral home that the woman’s date of birth is 1926 as that’s what they had on file. They were unaware of the issue with multiple birth dates. The funeral home then added this information to her death certificate, which is ultimately forwarded to her family.
The family, also unaware of her multiple birth dates, later filed a life insurance claim. The life insurance company denies the claim, because the date of birth on the death certificate is not the same as the date of birth on the policy. The family is baffled. They appeal the denial with the life insurance company and are informed that the death certificate must be corrected to the date shown on the life insurance policy.
Amending a death certificate can be a difficult and lengthy process depending on what information needs changing. When a change is as major as a birth date, it may require original documentary evidence. Unfortunately, this evidence could not be obtained because the year used on the original life insurance policy (1925) was not on any of the woman’s documents. In the end, the family was unable to file a successful life insurance claim.
The lesson learned was a good reminder about the general understanding of guardianship – no amount of preparation can equip you for all the unforeseen hurdles.