When a close friend or family member passes away, the last thing you may want to think about is financial matters. Managing the finances of someone who has passed away may seem overwhelming, but it's important to start relatively quickly to minimize the risk of fraud or identity theft.
Fortunately, representatives at banks and credit card companies understand this and will help make the process as easy as possible. Here's a step-by-step look at what to do when a credit card holder passes away.
Step 1: Notify the three major credit bureaus
Credit reporting companies regularly receive notifications from the Social Security Administration about individuals who have passed away, but it's better to also notify them on your own to ensure no one applies for credit in the deceased's name in the meantime.
Send letters to each of the major credit bureaus — Experian,1Equifax,2 and TransUnion3— and include the deceased's legal name, Social Security number, date of birth, date of death, and your full name and mailing address. You will need to provide a certified copy of the death certificate, a copy of your identification, and proof of your authority over the estate (e.g., a marriage certificate for a spouse or a Letter of Testamentary or court order naming you as the executor).
When you write to the three big credit bureaus, it's a good idea to also request a copy of your loved one's credit report. This will ensure you know about all open accounts that need to be closed. While you may find credit cards in a wallet or statements in a desk drawer, the only way to know for sure that you're canceling every single account in the deceased's name is to order a copy of their credit report.
Spouses and executors of the estate can make this request when they write to each of the credit bureaus to let them know of the person's passing. Just be sure to include the deceased's last known address in your letter.
Tip: When managing the finances of a loved one who's passed away, it's important to start the process quickly to minimize the risk of fraud or identity theft.
Step 2: Notify financial institutions
Using the credit report as your guide, contact all banks and credit card companies at which the deceased had an open account and close those accounts as quickly as possible. You will need to provide a certified copy of the death certificate to close the account.
Step 3: Figure out who is legally responsible for any credit card debt
If your loved one died with outstanding debts, untangling who is legally responsible for the credit card debt can be tricky.
Credit card debt doesn't disappear when the credit card holder passes away. If the account was jointly held with a spouse or someone else co-signed the credit application, that person will be 100% responsible for the debt.
If the debt is in the deceased's name alone, a surviving spouse may still be responsible for the debt if they live in one of the community property states4: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, and Alaska (if a special agreement is signed). Different states have different rules for dealing with the debt of a spouse, so it's a good idea to talk to an attorney.
Step 4: Follow up
After closing credit card accounts and notifying the credit bureaus, follow up to ensure the accounts were closed and no fraudulent accounts have been opened. Ask for written confirmation and file it with other documentation for the estate.
Facing the death of a loved one is a daunting journey. Knowing how to handle their financial affairs can help ensure you don't have to deal with fraud or identity theft during an already difficult time.
This content is general in nature and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.
Experian, “How to Obtain a Deceased Person's Credit Report," April 9, 2018, https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/executor-of-estate-can-obtain-deceaseds-credit-report/, accessed May 14, 2019.
Equifax, “How to I obtain a credit report for a deceased person?" https://help.equifax.com/s/article/How-do-I-obtain-a-credit-report-for-a-deceased-person, accessed May 14, 2019.
TransUnion, “Reporting a Death of a Loved One to TransUnion," April 5, 2019, https://www.transunion.com/blog/credit-advice/reporting-a-death-to-tu, accessed May 14, 2019.
CFPB, “Can I be responsible to pay off the debts of my deceased spouse?" October 25, 2017, https://www.consumerfinance.gov/ask-cfpb/am-i-responsible-to-pay-off-the-debts-of-my-deceased-spouse-en-1467/, accessed May 14, 2019.
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