At times, it can seem like the death of a loved one can be a nightmare come true. Organizing their affairs is time-consuming, and could be even worse if they had no plans in place. This often happens with unexpected deaths. You’re left stunned and heartbroken, while responsibilities continue to mount, with financial issues at the top of your list.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Step 1: Find Out What Bills Are Due
- Step 2: Figure Out Who Is Responsible for the Deceased’s Bills
- Step 3: Cancel the Bills if They’re No Longer in Use
- Step 4: Change and Transferring Names on the Bills
- Step 5: Deal with Mortgage Payments
Understandably, you might be quite confused. Are you responsible for the deceased’s bills? Can you change the name on those bills? It’s even more challenging if they left debt behind.
Who is responsible if the deceased had credit card debt or mortgage payments? Are you responsible? Working out these issues is crucial to your own peace of mind and the resolution of their estate.
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Step 1: Find Out What Bills Are Due
Everyone has their bills set up differently, and can depend on whether they lived in a fixed income senior center, an apartment complex, or a paid-off home. Investigate and see what bills are due.
Before you start sleuthing your way through the deceased’s home, figure out who was closest to them for practical matters. Maybe their eldest daughter handled bills for them in their last years. If so, she would be a valuable resource at this time. If you don’t have anyone to ask, look around in an office or somewhere they would have important documents stored.
Their file cabinets might be a treasure trove of information. People usually store rental agreements, credit card statements, pay stubs, and billing information here. It depends on whether they preferred electronic or paper billings. If you can’t find anything in file cabinets or mail, check their email accounts. Before you investigate someone’s personal papers and information, be sure you have permission. You might get this from the deceased’s next-of-kin or partner.
Start by figuring out how utilities are bundled. For instance, some people have their utilities charged through the same portal as their rent. This makes it much easier for you to either cancel the bill, change the name or something else. Other people pay water, sewer, trash, and garbage bills separately. Tracking down information for each company is much harder. It’s still doable, though.
Then, figure out due dates. This will inform you how much time you have before they come due. It can also help you work out cancellation dates.
Step 2: Figure Out Who Is Responsible for the Deceased’s Bills
Figuring this out often relies on someone’s financial status and independence prior to death. If they were wealthy enough to leave an estate, that makes it easier. Payment of bills and debts come out of their estate, in most cases. This isn’t true if someone else owned part of their estate. Those partial owners are responsible for bills if that’s the case. Life insurance is also a great resource. If they had life insurance and named a beneficiary, anything left over will be used to pay bills.
If they had no insurance or estate, things get tricky. Did you, or another relative, cosign for any bills or payments? If so, that relative is financially responsible for what they cosigned for.
When you’re making decisions and discoveries about responsibility, think about the future. Are you currently living in their house or apartment? Do you want to continue living there? If so, it’s important to change and transfer names on those bills.
If you don’t, start planning to move. All of their possessions need to be dealt with and bills need to be canceled. This will allow you to sell the house or move out of the apartment complex.
Step 3: Cancel the Bills if They’re No Longer in Use
It can be difficult to cancel someone else’s bills. This is due to the fact that most companies want to protect their customers. There are many instances of fraud. And companies can be over-vigilant, especially if you tell them someone has died!
You can start by getting in contact with the deceased’s cell phone provider. To do this, find the customer service number of their provider. Gather some documents first. This will make your conversation with the customer service representative much easier.
Find out who established the account. Usually, this will be the deceased. You’ll need to give their name, their cell phone number, their date of death, and their Social Security number. Some companies may be particularly sticky about the whole process. In this situation, a death certificate might be necessary.
After you’ve canceled cell phone service, it’s time to move on to other utility bills. If their bills were bundled in with their rent, figure out the terms of the lease. Will you need to break it, and if so, what is involved? If not, you’ll need to contact each company to cancel these bills. Call the customer service number of the company that provides these utility services. You’ll need to provide the same information that you gave to the cell phone provider.
Think ahead before you cancel these bills, though. Will you be staying in the house to sort through their possessions? If that’s the case, you don’t want to be without hot water or electricity!
Step 4: Changing and Transferring Names on the Bills
You might be planning to take over these bills. If the deceased’s home was willed to you, and you plan to stay in it, take care of this immediately. Decide how you want to handle these bills. Perhaps you’d rather take advantage of the wood-burning stove in the house. If that’s the case, cancel your gas bill.
Then, contact your utility provider for the remaining bills. When you call the company, you’ll need to provide specific documents. This will prove your identity and allow them to seamlessly switch over. Gather your driver’s license and billing address. You might also need information regarding employment status and credit history. That way, utility providers know you’re a trustworthy person to transfer these responsibilities too.
Once you’ve worked through the details over the phone, pick a date. That way, the company knows when to transfer these utilities to your name.
You might find better options than changing and transferring, though. Do your research. Maybe other providers offer utilities for much less. If that’s the case, cancel previous utilities and set up new accounts. This might prove to be even simpler.
Step 7: Dealing with Mortgage Payments
A mortgage is much more complicated to deal with than utility bills. Since they’re paid monthly, and can be bundled in with utility bills, it’s still important to figure out mortgage payments after death. Very few people live in a paid-off home, too. There’s a high likelihood that you’ll need to deal with a mortgage payment.
If you find yourself in this position, you have a few options. You can transfer the mortgage to a beneficiary, for instance. This might be you. If that’s true, transfer the mortgage to your name as soon as possible. If you were named as the heir of their home in the will, do this immediately. If that’s not the case, pursue other options.
You can sell the home and pay off the mortgage debt. Any leftover money can be used as directed in the will. If there was no will, it’s appropriate to give this money to the deceased’s beneficiaries or next-of-kin. Having a family discussion about what to do with this money can avoid conflict. If neither of those options work, you can pay off the mortgage with any other assets they might have had. Then, decide what to do with the paid-off property after that.
Wrapping Up Your Affairs
Whether you’re dealing with the cable bill or credit card debt after death, it’s still challenging. The good news is that it can be straightforward. If you follow these steps, you can hopefully iron out bills and practical matters in no time. If the deceased left behind advance directives, you know exactly what to do.
If you’re just planning ahead, and not trying to deal with utility bills now, be sure to write it down. That way, your heirs or beneficiaries know what you want to be done. Adding this practical information to an end-of-life planning checklist can be a lifesaver.
- Alaska Court System. “Practical Steps to Take After Death.” n.d., www.courts.alaska.gov/shc/probate/probate-after-death.htm
- Federal Trade Commission: Consumer Information. “Debts and Deceased Relatives.” n.d., www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0081-debts-and-deceased-relatives