Two Manitoba women mistakenly declared dead in government records, families say

WINNIPEG — Two different Manitoba families have had to bring a loved one back to life after they were mistakenly declared dead in government records, a situation that can come with both emotional and financial implications.

Each family said they received the notification through letters from the Canada Revenue Agency, even though their family members are alive.

“She seemed pretty alive to me when I saw her,” said Dave Gibeault, whose mother Mary, 75, lives with dementia in a personal care home in Winnipeg.

She’s alive in person but was temporarily considered dead in government records.

Gibeault, who’s his mom’s power of attorney and therefore files her taxes, recently received a letter from the CRA which contained the unexpected news.

“The letter I received was to the estate of Mary Gibeault, stating because they had a date of death that I was required to settle up any of her financials,” said Gibeault.

Gibeault isn’t alone.

Bert Atkinson and his daughter Amanda of Napinka, Man. also got a letter from the CRA addressed to the estate of their wife and mother Marie Atkinson, who’s in long term care in southwest Manitoba.

“It put a stress on me,” said Bert. “I didn’t know what to think and my wife—she pretty near had a heart attack over it.”

The letter asked them to send in Marie’s will because she had passed away, but Bert said it has also had financial implications.

He said Marie hasn’t been receiving government benefits.

“We’re waiting on money,” said Bert. “We’re not getting it. It does put a stress on us because we are in the hole.”

While it’s unclear exactly what caused the error in each case, both families say they are in the process of having their loved one’s date of death removed by the CRA.

Between 2007 and 2013, 5,489 Canadians were incorrectly coded as dead by the CRA, according to a report by the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman.

Recommendations were made to prevent errors but a CRA spokesperson told CTV News they can still occur on very rare occasions, if someone fills out a tax form incorrectly or an error is made by an employee.

Once a mistake’s been discovered, the CRA can correct the record by removing the date of death from the taxpayer’s file.

That’s already happened in the case of Gibeault’s mom.

“The box was checked off by CRA and she is, in their eyes, alive but the damage is done wherever it trickled down to,” said Gibeault.

He said he’s now trying to get in contact with Service Canada and Manitoba Health to make sure his mother’s benefits and health coverage remain in place. But so far Gibeault said he hasn’t been able to get those answers.

Manitoba Health said it updates coverage when notified of a death by Manitoba Vital Statistics, Manitoba Residential Charges or a family member.

If someone’s concerned about an error in death notification, they can contact the department at 204-786-7101 or toll-free at 1-800-392-1207 to check if their coverage is still in place or have coverage reinstated.  

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