Reporting Deaths To Credit Agencies

Following the death of a loved one, there are many tasks to be considered. Some require immediate attention, like contacting an attorney to assist with the opening of the estate and the appointment of the personal representative. Others are not quite as urgent but are equally important. In the age of fraud and identity theft, one task is becoming increasingly urgent—protecting the personal information of that loved one.

When putting together a meaningful summary of a loved one’s life in the form of an obituary, we often feel compelled to provide as much detail as possible. Typically, this information will include the individual’s date of birth and the maiden name of the individual’s mother. Armed with this information, along with an address that is readily available on line, a would-be thief has the majority of the information needed to open a new credit card or bank account in the name of the deceased individual without ever leaving the house. If the thief can then gain access to the death certificate (which more often than not includes the social security number of a deceased individual), there is nothing to stop them.

Fortunately, there are steps that you can take. First, you should contact each of the three credit bureaus—Equifax Information Services LLC, Office of Consumer Affairs, PO Box 105139, Atlanta, GA 30348; Experian, P.O. Box 4500, Allen, TX 75013; TransUnion LLC at P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19022—and send a copy of the deceased individual’s death certificate. You should include a cover letter that explains the capacity in which you are contacting the credit bureau, such as being the surviving spouse or the personal representative of the estate (in which case you should also include a copy of your authority). The credit agencies will then place an alert on the file of the deceased individual so that if someone tries to open an account in the name of the deceased person, the credit bureau will alert the requester that the person is deceased. You may also wish to request a copy of the credit report for the deceased individual so that you can identify any accounts and assets that the deceased individual might have owned.

While many of the financial institutions may eventually filter word to the credit bureaus of the death of an individual, there are basic steps that you can take to insure that your grief from the loss of a loved one is not prolonged with the frustration of having to deal with potentially fraudulent activity.

Tim Babcock
June 2015

Categories: Article and Elder Law.