When a loved one dies, you’ll have to take several steps beyond just arranging the funeral. One of the most challenging tasks includes legal and financial obligations. These are often confusing, especially for grieving family members.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Social Security Fraud After Death
- Sending a Death Notification to Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion
- Sample Death Notification Letter for Credit Bureaus
- What Happens to Credit After Death?
With everything else going on, it’s easy to overlook your loved one’s credit. The credit reporting agencies need to be notified of your loved one’s death to keep them from becoming a target of identity fraud or another scam.
Unfortunately, scammers target the dead, but your family has options to prevent this from happening to your deceased loved one. In this guide, we’ll explain how to report a death to the credit bureaus.
Social Security Fraud After Death
A report from the Office of the Inspector General revealed that there are over 6.4 million U.S. Social Security numbers active for people above the age of 112+. Because it’s not likely that this many people in this age group are alive, this is actually a sign of Social Security fraud.
Criminals often steal Social Security numbers of the recently deceased to do a number of fraudulent activities. They often:
- Steal the individual’s Social Security benefits after death
- Open new lines of credit, like credit cards and loans
- Create new utility or service accounts in the deceased’s name
- Provide this information in a criminal situation
Basically, these criminals charge up several debts to your loved one’s credit. From there, these debts go unpaid. Since many families don’t monitor this credit report, you may not notice the criminal activity until it’s too late. Eventually, these lenders seek payment for these debts, and your loved one’s estate is at risk.
Where do these criminals find this information? They’re skilled in searching for the most vulnerable. They browse social media and obituary websites searching for those who recently passed. These websites often reveal personal information, like a local address. From there, criminals find valuable data from sources like mail, family, and even online. Stealing the identity of a deceased person is known as “ghosting” since the person’s identity lingers on like a phantom.
Luckily, you have steps for protecting your loved one’s identity. Your family member deserves to rest in peace, and that means not having to worry about their credit after death.
Sending a Death Notification to Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion
The way to prevent identity theft is by sending what’s called a death notification. This needs to be sent to the credit bureaus so they will no longer issue credit for your loved one. It’s essentially a way to freeze credit. Follow these steps below to send a death notification correctly.
1. Obtain the death certificate
First, you need to obtain your loved one’s death certificate. The bureau requires a death certificate with the death notification to prove your loved one has indeed passed away.
You’ll receive the death certificate within a few weeks after the death of your loved one, but you can also secure one from your local courthouse, the town or city clerk where the decedent passed away, or the state’s vital records department. It’s always a good idea to have multiple certified copies of the death certificate.
2. Contact the agencies by phone
Before submitting a formal written request, contact the agency by phone. Why do this when you already are sending a written notice? The main reason is that criminals work quickly. It only takes a day or so for them to start their own fraud scam. Calling is the fastest way to take action in the meantime. Note you only need to call one agency. They notify the others of the updates.
You can contact each credit bureau at the numbers below:
- Experian - 888-397-3742
- Exifax - 800-685-111
- TransUnion - 800-888-4213
Contact one of the above agencies by phone and let them know your relative passed away. They’ll make a note on the account. They’ll also give you specific instructions about how to go about filing a written claim. Otherwise, follow the steps below.
3. Send a deceased notice
The most official way to notify the credit bureaus of death is via certified mail. In your letter, you’ll need to include:
- A certified copy of the death certificate as mentioned above
- Proof that you’re authorized to act on behalf of the deceased
- The deceased’s information such as their full legal name, Social Security number, birthday, and date of death
If you’re the surviving spouse, you don’t need proof that you’re authorized to act for the deceased. Otherwise, you’ll need to show that you’re the executor or administrator of the estate. The probate court will provide an appointment or letters testamentary after you open the estate.
Your letter should have all of the required information. It should be sent via certified mail to ensure it’s delivered safely. From there, wait for approval from the credit agency. This could take several weeks.
For some credit agencies, there is an online submission form for death notifications. Experian has an online portal for uploading death certificates and other related documents. No matter what method you choose, make sure you provide all the required documents.
4. Request credit reports
It’s also a smart idea to request a copy of your loved one’s credit report. This helps you identify which creditors the deceased had at his or her time of death. Request a credit report from all three national credit agencies since not every service reports to all of them.
The executor or administrator of the estate will need to contact these creditors to notify them that your loved one passed away. This is also a way to learn about any credit card debt after death.If the accounts are paid in full, the service providers will close the account, also protecting the account from fraud. Again, this might require you to provide documents proving the death of your loved one and your authority to act on their behalf.
5. Forward all mail
Finally, make sure you take steps to prevent any additional debts from being taken in your loved one’s name. As mentioned earlier, it’s common for criminals to look for mail as a way to discover critical information about the deceased. To prevent this, forward all mail to the executor or administrator of the estate or your probate attorneyew. Mail that piles up is a considerable risk, so don’t let this happen.
6. Close all accounts
Finally, close any bank accounts, debit accounts, utilities, and even social media accounts. The goal here is to make it as difficult as possible for your loved one’s information to be exposed to fraudsters. Create a checklist of any accounts that need action. Use the same notice letter below to close these accounts in addition to notifying the credit agencies.
Sample Death Notification Letter for Credit Bureaus
What do you need to include in your death notification letter? Simple is best. As long as you include all of the required information, you’ve done all you need to in terms of the letter. Here is a sample death notification letter to use for your deceased family member’s credit account.
Dear [Credit Bureau Name],
This letter is to inform you of the death of [Name]. I request that a formal death notice be added to [his/her] file. [Name’s] full name was [Full Name] and [he/she] resided at [address]. [His/her] birthday was [date], and [his/her] Social Security Number was [Number].
[Name] died on [date]. I have enclosed the death certificate with this request.
My name is [Your Full Name] and I am the deceased’s [relationship to relative]. I am [his/her] [executor/administrator]. I have included documents proving our relationship.
Thank you for your assistance. My phone number is [number] and my email address is [email]. Please let me know if you require further information.
What Happens to Credit After Death?
After walking through all these steps, you might wonder what happens to your credit after a death? You might be surprised to learn that credit agencies don’t erase a credit file immediately once they receive your letter. Instead, they place a “death indicator” on the account. This means there’s a specific note that the person passed away.
Credit agencies actually keep the credit file as a way to prevent theft. If there was nothing to report to the lender (e.g. no credit file), the lender would be more likely to approve the application. Instead, the credit agencies flag any accounts that submit credit applications after death.
Everything stays on a credit report for up to seven years. That means each account and marks will slowly delete within a period of seven years. Until then, the file stays with each bureau as a way to protect against fraud. This is why it’s so essential that the family reports the loved one as deceased with the correct agencies. Otherwise, your loved one’s file is a risk.
Protect Your Loved One’s Credit
Many family members fail to remember their loved one’s credit after the passing. This is easily one of the last things on one’s mind, but it’s worth the small effort. Unfortunately, fraud is such a rampant problem today. Luckily, just a few steps go a long way to protect your loved one’s credit even after death.
Take these steps above and use the sample letter above to secure your relative’s credit. After the funeral, it’s time to manage your loved one’s estate. That means taking care of their credit so nobody has access to his or her identity.
Disclaimer: The information posted on this site is provided solely for informational and educational purposes and is not legal advice or tax advice. Contact an appropriate professional licensed in your jurisdiction for advice specific to your legal or tax situation.
- “Credit Steps to Take After a Relative’s Death.” Equifax. Equifax.com.
- “Numberholders Age 112 or Older Who Did Not Have a Death Entry on the Numident.” Office of the Inspector General: Social Security Administration. OIG.SSA.gov.
- “What Happens to Your Credit Report When You Die.” Experian. 16 August 2013. Experian.com.