I never reported Mom’s death to the IRS and Social Security. What now?

Q. My mom passed away 10 years ago. I recently realized that in all of my mindlessness in that time, I never reported her death to the IRS or Social Security. It simply fell off my radar. How bad will the consequences be?

— In trouble, I think

A. This could be a problem.

You said you never reported your mother’s death to various institutions.

We’re going to assume you were the person authorized to act on behalf of the estate either as the executor, if there was a will, or as an administrator, if there was no will.

If you were, you’d be required to file tax returns on behalf of your mother and her estate, said Tom Szieber, a trusts and estates attorney at Herold Law in Warren.

You would also assume personal liability for your mother’s tax liabilities, if there are any, he said.

“Debts to the United States government take priority over other debts of the estate and the interests of estate beneficiaries,” he said. “As a result, if the questioner’s mother’s estate owed any estate, gift or income taxes to the IRS and the questioner had already distributed the estate’s available funds to beneficiaries or other creditors, he or she would be personally liable for the IRS debt to the extent he or she is not able to recover from the beneficiaries sufficient assets to satisfy the liabilities.”

You would also be liable for the substantial amount of interest and penalties that have accrued over the past 10 years because of your failure to address the debt with the IRS, he said.

Szieber said you also would have had the duty to notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) of the death.

“Funeral homes or morgues will sometimes do so, but it is prudent for an executor or administrator to contact the SSA to be certain it has been notified,” he said. “Any Social Security payments issued to the questioner’s mother subsequent to the mother’s date of death — other than benefits to which a surviving spouse and/or minor children are entitled — would need to be returned.”

He recommends you consult with an attorney to determine if you could be subject to liability for breach of your fiduciary duty as executor or administrator, and if so, how to address such potential liability.

Email your questions to Ask@NJMoneyHelp.com.

Karin Price Mueller writes the Bamboozled column for NJ Advance Media and is the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Follow NJMoneyHelp on Twitter @NJMoneyHelp. Find NJMoneyHelp on Facebook. Sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.