What Happens to a Cell Phone Contract When You or a Loved One Dies?

Updated

Attorney, distinguished law professor

When a close family member dies, the least of your concerns should be cancelling your loved one’s cell phone contract. Yet an ongoing contract for a deceased loved one can become a wasteful expense for your loved one’s estate.

Unfortunately, some people may not know how to terminate a cell phone contract of a deceased loved one. As a result, many estates continue to pay monthly fees for cell phone service that is no longer being used. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

This article explains what happens to a cell phone contract when a loved one dies and what steps you must take to cancel your loved one’s contract and avoid the expense of unnecessary cell phone service.

Can You Get Out of a Cell Phone Contract When Someone Dies?

Yes! You can get out of a cell phone contract when someone dies. That said, it is not always a simple process. Each cell phone service provider or “carrier” has its own protocols and requirements for cancelling the contract of a customer who dies.

The requirements of some of the major carriers are discussed below. Knowing what to expect when you try to cancel a contract with any service provider may save you a lot of time and frustration, especially when you are trying to grieve the loss of your loved one. 

You have probably heard or read stories of the difficulties some people have faced when trying to work with service representatives to cancel a cell phone contract for their deceased loved one. Before you get up in arms, it is important to understand that the process of cancelling a cell phone contract is difficult for a reason, which is to protect the privacy and integrity of each customer’s personal information.

With this in mind, continue reading to learn what to expect when you attempt to terminate your loved one’s cell phone contract and what information you will need to be able to do so quickly and with the least amount of frustration possible.

Who’s Responsible for Cancelling the Cell Phone Contract for the Deceased?

It is not the responsibility of the phone service carrier to cancel a contract when a customer dies. Phone service providers have millions of customers. When a customer dies, the service under the customer’s contract continues. If a bill is not paid, the carrier does not assume that there has been a death.

The company will continue to charge late fees and provide phone service. Likewise, if a cell phone contract expires after a customer’s death, it is likely to renew automatically under the terms of the contract. The contract usually will only terminate if the carrier is informed of the customer’s death.

The person responsible for informing the carrier of your loved one’s death is normally the executor or personal representative of your loved one’s estate. This is the person who is charged with paying the outstanding debts of the decedent, distributing their property, and closing the estate.

However, even if you are not in charge of the estate, as long as you have the relevant information that the phone carrier requires, you should be able to cancel your loved one’s cell phone contract quickly and easily.

How Do You Go About Cancelling a Cell Phone Contract After a Death?

The first step in cancelling the cell phone contract of a deceased family member is to know what phone carrier your loved one used and what information that carrier will require in order to cancel your loved one’s contract. It is likely that your loved one used one of three major phone carriers: AT&T, Sprint/T-Mobile, or Verizon.

Even if your loved one used a less commonly used phone carrier for their cell phone service, you likely will find a monthly cell phone bill among your loved one’s personal papers or email that will identify the carrier you should contact.

Once you identify the appropriate carrier, you should look on that carrier’s website for instructions on how to cancel a customer’s contract because of death. Here are current links to the instructions for cancelling a contract with each of the three major carriers because of a customer’s death:

AT&T

AT&T allows you to assume the management of your deceased loved one’s account, provided you have the account holder’s name and wireless security passcode. If you contact customer service with this information, you should be able to terminate your loved one’s contract, with certain stipulations.

For example, there should be no fees incurred to terminate the account or transfer service. With that said, if your loved one was the owner of the account, installment agreements may be adjusted for all lines of service on the account.

Additionally, the account cannot remain open under your loved one’s name and social security number (except in Oklahoma). But if you transfer billing responsibility, you may keep your loved one’s cell phone number, which may be useful if you are still handling other affairs for the estate. Your loved one’s estate will be responsible for any outstanding balance on the account.

Sprint / T-Mobile

Likewise, depending on whether your loved one was the account holder or just a user on someone else’s account, Sprint/T-Mobile will allow you to cancel the entire account or just the service to your loved one’s line. To do so, you must provide the following information:

  • The name of your loved one
  • Your loved one’s cell phone number
  • The last four digits of your loved one’s Social Security number
  • The date your loved one died
  • If your loved one’s account was for a business owned with another person, documentation of the business registration proving ownership.

Verizon

If your loved one used Verizon, you also may either transfer ownership responsibility or terminate the contract. If you are the executor of the deceased customer’s estate, to have the service transferred to you, you must provide appropriate paperwork proving your executorship. Otherwise, anyone requesting to terminate the contract must provide the following information:

  • The account owner’s name
  • Your loved one’s phone number
  • Your loved one’s Verizon wireless Account PIN

Before Cancelling Their Cell Phone Contracts

For any of these providers, if there is data on your loved one’s cell phone device that you wish to retain before you terminate the account, you should back-up the data on the phone to another accessible device. If your loved one did not have a password manager, you will want to review the data registered on the phone. Data that you may wish to preserve from your loved one’s device may include:

  • Digital photographs
  • E-mails
  • Text messages
  • Password information
  • Calendars
  • Credit card and other billing information

While the device can stay with you as part of the estate, you will want to have all this information backed up somewhere.

Cancelling Cell Phone Contracts for Loved Ones When They Die

No one wants to anticipate the death of a loved one. However, you can avoid unnecessary expense for your loved one's estate--and stress for you--if you simply record some basic information related to your loved one’s cell phone account so that you may easily cancel their contract when they die.

If you anticipate the death of a loved one who owns a cell phone account or uses a cell phone line on another person’s account, be sure to obtain the required information so that if or when your loved one dies, you can easily wind-up their affairs and avoid ongoing service and fees.

This is a difficult and untimely task, but it is a necessary part of the grieving process. By knowing what to expect and recording the right information, you can make the process a little easier on you and your loved one’s estate.

Icons sourced from FlatIcon.