If you are dealing with the death of a family member or loved one, you have a lot on your plate. Probably you are not thinking about their credit cards. But when the credit cardholder dies, there are some critical moves to make as soon as possible.
Open credit card accounts have the potential to increase whatever debt has been left behind. This debt could pass on to you, joint account holders, or the estate of the deceased. Here are a few tips to help you protect the deceased’s assets.
1. Block Any Use of the Credit Cards
Once a person dies, his or her credit cards are no longer valid. Get in touch with all family members who may have the account holder’s credit card in their possession, including all authorized users. Ask them to return the cards to you.
Examine credit card statements to identify authorized users or cardholders that are unknown to you. Alternatively, contact the issuer and ask for a list of all authorized users.
Once you have collected all outstanding credit cards and the cards of the deceased, lock them up in a safe or destroy them. Discover if anyone has stored the cardholder’s card numbers, people who might have been authorized to charge items to the deceased’s account. Ask them to please shred all papers on which they have written down the card number and delete all electronic files.
2. Notify Credit Card Issuers of Cardholder’s Death
As mentioned above, until the credit card accounts are closed, they will continue to accrue interest and finance charges (unless there is no balance). When the credit cardholder dies, it is crucial to let the issuers know about the death as soon as possible. If the person is a joint cardholder, let the issuer know that one of the joint owners has died.
Your first contact with the issuer will be by telephone. You can find the number on the back of the card. After speaking with you, they should place a red flag on the account. However, it is critically important that you follow up with a certified letter. When you speak to the credit card representative, ask for all the details about what steps need to be taken to cancel the account, including the address for sending relevant documents.
3. Death Certificate
You will need to send a certified copy of the death certificate to each of the deceased’s credit card issuers. If there are other debts, you will need to send a death certificate to those lenders. These are official, state documents that require a valid signature and seal. Order several copies so you will not run out. Traditionally the person handling the burial can assist you with this.
4. Identify Recurring Charges
Determine if there are recurring charges, such as utility bills, subscriptions, memberships, or charity payments that are processed every month by credit card. You can get this information when you speak to the credit card issuers. They should cancel the recurring charges, but it is good to follow up with the identified offices or services yourself. Be sure they know that the credit cardholder has died.
5. Request a Credit Freeze
When the credit cardholder dies, you must do everything possible to prevent identity theft and fraud. In addition to notifying all credit card issuers, place a call to the three primary credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) to request a credit freeze. Let them know of the death of the individual. Their credit report should be immediately flagged as “Deceased. Do not issue credit.” Follow up with a certified letter. A credit freeze will lock the deceased’s account and prevent identity theft leading to fraud.