As a firm, our niche is retirement planning. Many of our client couples engage us as they begin their retirement and use our services to manage their financial affairs through that wonderful phase of their life. However, the unfortunate fact is that some of our clients will become widows or widowers while we are working with them. There is much we can do during that transition. We can coordinate with their attorney; we can retitle accounts. The funeral home does their part by notifying Social Security of the death and may give them a surviving spouse checklist. Still, one very important task is often overlooked—notifying the credit agencies directly.
Social Security does notify the credit agencies, but this can take months, providing time for identity thieves to piece together enough information to open credit accounts. It is the responsibility of the surviving spouse to notify lenders on joint accounts, to close out accounts in the deceased’s name, and to notify the three major credit agencies.
Notifying lenders on joint credit accounts can be tricky. It’s possible that the account is actually in the deceased’s name and the surviving spouse is an authorized user. If that is the case, be prepared to lose availability to credit. If it truly is a joint account, the surviving spouse can request that it remain open and continue to be active in the surviving spouse’s name alone.
For the credit agencies, a surviving spouse needs the deceased’s credit files to be sealed and a “Death Notice” or a “Deceased Alert” to be placed on them. The surviving spouse or executor must notify the three national credit bureaus in writing. A simple letter requesting that a formal “Death Notice” be placed on the deceased’s credit file will suffice.
Enclose a copy of the deceased’s death certificate and include the following information about the deceased:
- Full name (with middle initial if used)
- Most recent address
- Social Security number
Include the following information about you:
- Full name
- Current address
- Current phone number
- Current email address
- Relationship to the deceased
If the surviving spouse submits the letter and documentation enclose a copy of the marriage license. If the executor submits the letter and documentation, enclose a copy of the letters testamentary which is issued by the probate court.
You may also request a copy of the deceased’s credit report. Add language for that in the letter and enclose a copy of your driver’s license.
Be sure to keep a copy of your mailing and use a mail service with tracking.
Here are the addresses for the three major credit agencies:
P.O. Box 9701
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 105139
Atlanta, Georgia 30348–5159
Chester, PA 19016
This is a hard but necessary task during the grieving process.