As we live in a world of technology, it would seem safe to assume that banks would know when someone dies. However, this is not the case and credit cards are not automatically canceled when the credit card holder passes away. If you are not careful, this can lead to many problems. Some family members or other individuals may continue to use the deceased’s credit cards (innocently or not). Identity thieves spend their time trolling through obituaries and other online records to learn about recent deaths. They then take that information in order to steal from accounts or possibly create new ones. Identity theft means big money for the thieves and massive headaches for you. Missed credit card payments result in additional fees, something else you want to avoid.
If you are the executor of the estate, you need to take immediate steps to resolve any credit accounts as well as credit report files. Here are six steps to help you through the process.
Organize the Financial Accounts
The first step is organizing the deceased’s financial accounts. Log into the accounts with all of their passwords and save the information in one document. If you can do this before the individual passes away, the job is that much easier. The executor certified by the court or the surviving spouse can request a copy of the deceased’s credit report, which will list all credit cards issued to the deceased. You will also want to go through any filing cabinets and folders to look for invoices and statements. Incoming mail will need to be monitored for at least six months and up to a year after the deceased’s passing.
Stop the Use of the Deceased’s Credit Cards
After an individual passes away, their credit cards are no longer valid. It is important that no one uses those cards for any reason, even to pay for any of the deceased’s expenses. Using a deceased’s credit card is considered fraud. Collect all credit cards and put them away or destroy them.
If the credit card account is a joint account, then there should be no issues with the future use of the card for the joint account holder.
Obtain Multiple Copies of the Death Certificate
You will need multiple copies of the original death certificate to send to each credit card company with which the deceased had a credit card. You will also need another three copies for the credit report bureaus.
Call the Credit Card Companies
Call all credit card companies immediately to cancel all credit cards. If credit cards are held jointly, let the credit card company know that one of the joint cardholders has passed away.
While a phone call will put a flag on the account, it is important to follow up through the mail. Send a letter including the name of the deceased as well as their personal information, including Social Security number, date of birth, date of death, address and credit card number. You will also want to include your own contact information and how you are related to the deceased. Send the letter in such a manner that you are able to track it.
Contact the Credit Report Bureaus
You should contact the main three credit report bureaus and ask that they freeze their credit reports. Again, you will want to follow up through the mail. This step of freezing credit reports is a safeguard to prevent the criminal element from opening new credit cards using the deceased’s name and Social Security number.
Pay the Creditors
This step comes last. As the executor, it is your job to ensure that creditors are paid in a manner acceptable to the probate court. State laws have strict guidelines on the appropriate manner for paying off creditors from the estate. Be sure to check those guidelines first. Your first job is to gather the assets. The second job is pay off any outstanding debt.