As a firm, our niche is AGILE retirement planning. Many couples become clients as they approach retirement for help managing their financial affairs through the phases of their retirement journey. However, the unfortunate fact is that some of our clients will become widows or widowers.
There is much we can do to help them through that transition—from coordinating with their attorney to retitling their accounts. The funeral home does its part by notifying Social Security of the death, often providing the client with a surviving spouse checklist.
Still, one critical task is often overlooked: notifying the credit agencies directly.
While Social Security notifies the credit agencies, it can take months, giving identity thieves enough time to piece together information and open credit accounts. It is the responsibility of the surviving spouse or the estate’s executor 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 have unintended consequences for the surviving spouse. It’s possible that the account is actually in the deceased’s name, listing the surviving spouse as an authorized user. If that’s 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 yourself:
- 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 ask for a copy of the deceased’s credit report. Add that request 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 4500
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 105139
Atlanta, Georgia 30348–5159
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
“Ghosting” is the term given to the theft of a deceased individual’s identity. Since it can take months for social security, financial institutions and credit agencies to share information, and the deceased no longer monitor their credit, “ghosting” is becoming a big problem. Do not give the thieves the time they need to steal your loved one’s identity. Try and notify the credit agencies as soon as possible.