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The Moneyist: My fiancée’s mother asked us to raise her 2 kids as we live in a good school district and she has a gambling addiction — then she claimed their stimulus checks

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Dear Quentin,

Last year, in February, my fiancée’s stepfather passed away. After his passing, my fiancée’s mother asked both her and I to raise her younger sons, as we had recently purchased a new home, have degrees and will be able to provide a great area for their education, such as help with homework, and being able to communicate with their schools or doctors; my fiancée’s mother cannot read, write or speak English, and has an addiction to gambling at casinos.

COVID-19 soon hit afterwards, we both were let go from our jobs, and are making it by with unemployment and savings.

With that said, in March of this year, we filed taxes and my fiancée claimed both of her brothers since they had lived with us for almost nine months of last year. We received both of their stimulus payments a few days later. About three weeks later, we found out that my fiancée’s mother had also received the stimulus payments, even though she is adamant that she did not claim her children this year.

Upon seeing the money, I advised her to leave the money as the Internal Revenue Service may eventually ask for it back. Her new boyfriend then quickly told her to withdraw it anyway. They’ll deal with it later if they ask for it, he said.

My question is: Will this situation hurt my fiancée and I in any way? I fear that the IRS may find out sooner or later about the error, and will seek the money from us, as her mother may have already gambled away that stimulus money, and make us pay for it even though we are using it as it was intended, for bills and necessities.

Fiancé

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com.

Dear Fiancé,

You are correct. The IRS will eventually ask for that money back, and it will likely do so by deducting the money from a future tax refund. You are also correct that your de facto mother-in-law should not have spent the money. I take my hat off to you for raising these two children, and giving them a stable home, and the head start in life that they deserve.

Many people in such a situation would write, complaining about how they did X, Y and Z, and their in-laws were ungrateful, but you have taken the high road, knowing that these shenanigans are between you and your fiancée’s mother, and do not involve your girlfriend’s two younger siblings. I am glad that you have not involved them in this somewhat messy situation.

You, of course, have done the right thing. The Moneyist column has dealt with dependents who claimed the stimulus, and parents who are not guardians of their children collecting it. The $1,400 economic stimulus payment, as you are aware, is not a loan. This third stimulus check is an advanced tax credit on your 2021 taxes, and calculated based on your 2020 taxes.

If the IRS does not know who is telling the truth here, it will audit both parties. The truth will come to light eventually, and they should be made aware that you are not in a position to help bail them out of this situation. They have knowingly walked into it, and there should be a clear boundary between helping their children, and being a facilitator to their malfeasance.

The IRS has extensive guidance on what to do when someone fraudulently claims your dependent. “If you determine the other person was not eligible to claim your dependent, you’ll need to take steps to protect your right to claim the dependent and ensure an accurate filing,” it says. You have everything you need to know in order to take proactive steps here.

I leave that for you to decide.

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