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Surviving False Death Reports

Michael L Goldblatt

Surviving False Death Reports Djelic

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Mark Twain responded that "The report of my death was an exaggeration" when reacting to a premature report of his death in a New York newspaper. Mistaken death reports are caused by accidental publication, clerical error, confusion, fakes, frauds, hoaxes, and misunderstandings. Wikipedia's List of Premature Obituaries details almost 400 mistaken deaths of celebrities, clergy, leaders, and ordinary people.

Every year the Social Security Administration mistakenly includes thousands of people in its Master Death File, a database of dead persons. The Administration processes death reports from funeral homes, individuals, and government agencies. Mistaken reports can cause emotional distress, damage credit, and harm reputation. Following is a checklist for avoiding mistaken death and remediating damage if it happens.


Avoiding - stay visible (e.g., engage in social media, participate in bar activities, take part in social activities, and publish articles in print and online).

Detecting - check the Internet (e.g., death files, credit scores, obituaries, search engines, and state records).

Correcting - contact sources, request retraction, and alert contacts to the mistake.

Recovering - seek compensation for negligence and intentional harm for egregious situations.

Trailblazing - create a niche practice of helping clients to correct death reports, recover damages, and repair credit.


Help yourself and your clients to avoid the damage caused by false death reports. Be prepared to act when deaths are mistakenly reported by government agencies, newspapers, or rumors. Keep this article as a checklist of actions and use the following resources for more information.


Advisory Board, Social Security and the Death Master File, Social Security Administration, June 2019.

Rae Ellen Bichell, Social Security Data Errors Can Turn People Into the Living Dead, NPR Morning Edition, Aug. 10, 2016.

Staff, How to Find Death, Sep.5, 2022.

Staff, Mistakenly Reported as Deceased, Experian, Apr. 24, 2018.

Staff, What Should I Do If I Am Incorrectly Listed as Deceased In Social Security’s Records?, Social Security Administration, Jul, 26, 2022.

Staff, Understanding IRS Notice for Account Locked Due to Death, IRS, Sep. 5, 2022.


Susan Van Ryn, Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope, Howard Books, Mar. 31, 2009.

Stewart Levine, The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness, ABA Book Publ., Aug. 23, 2018.

Websites (free credit reports)

Exit Strategy (death planning) (obituary archive)

My Trees (death searches)

Social Security Administration (death information)

U.S. Treasury (deceased taxpayers) (premature obituaries).