4/11/13 Update: The credit bureaus have now confirmed that they will take photocopies of death certificates as proof. The information below has been updated.
A widow asked me whether it was necessary for her to notify each of the credit bureaus of her husband’s passing to assure no credit would be issued in his name. If it was necessary, she wondered how to contact each bureau.
The question was a good one for many reasons. I’ve spoken to both widows and widowers, dealing with the loss of their loved one and overwhelmed because that spouse took care of bills and finances. It’s a big learning curve at a sensitive time.
The short answer is yes, she should notify the credit bureaus. It’s true the information of where to notify the bureaus is not easily found on the Web and many seniors aren’t too comfortable on the Internet.
“The primary concern is that someone will steal that individual’s identity and use that name and address to commit identity fraud,” said Rod Griffin, spokesman for Experian, one of the three credit bureaus. “Notifying the credit reporting agencies will allow us to put in a deceased indicator.”
Victor L. Russell, regional operations manager for Apprisen, formerly the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Northern Ohio, said it’s a good idea for widows and widowers to obtain certified copies of the death certificate. Most creditors and credit reporting agencies will ask for that.
Russell suggested notifying the Social Security Administration, too.
Robert Fenn, public affairs specialist for the Social Security Administration’s office in Akron, said the agency receives reports of deaths from family members and funeral homes, which submit information electronically.
Here’s the information you will need from each of the bureaus. (Unfortunately, unlike fraud alerts, the bureaus do not share information among themselves about death notices, so each one should be individually contacted.)
• Equifax: Send a death certificate (photocopies OK) to Equifax Information Services LLC, Office of Consumer Affairs, P.O. Box 105139, Atlanta, GA 30348.
• Experian: Send a death certificate (photocopies OK) along with identification, Social Security number and provide proof that you have legal authority over the estate. If you are the spouse, that automatically qualifies you. If you are an executor, include copies of court documents. Send to: Experian, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013.
• TransUnion: Send a death certificate (photocopies OK) to: TransUnion, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19022 or by fax to 610-546-4606. If the surviving spouse also needs a copy of their deceased spouse’s credit report, send the request with a copy of the executor paperwork and include name and mailing address.
Don’t close accounts
It might seem wise to close financial accounts, but don’t be too quick to do that as it can hurt your good credit score.
Particularly for women, if you were a joint account holder with your husband, you might want to consider whether or not to close the accounts, said Griffin.
“You want to maintain access to those accounts as a joint account holder and if you close the accounts, you lose access and it could affect your ability to apply for future credit,” he said.
Sometimes older women don’t have a personal credit history, if they didn’t have accounts in their names, Griffin said.
If you had a joint account, you might talk to your lender about having the deceased spouse removed, he said.
Griffin said there are times when a report will have the wrong person listed as deceased. Most likely, it could be that a creditor reported that one of the two joint account holders has passed away, but it’s the wrong person. Contact the credit bureau, he said.
Griffin also said it’s important to check your credit report once a year for accuracy.
Everyone is entitled to one free credit report a year from each of the credit bureaus. These are different than the “free” reports many of the bureaus themselves offer, but those are usually tied to paying for a credit monitor’s service, which in my opinion is not necessary.
To get your real “free” reports, go to www.annualcredit report.com or call 877-322-8228. You must disclose your Social Security number to verify your identity, but any report will not have the full number printed on it. If you want your credit score, you will need to pay for that (about $8). I advise getting the FICO score, which is the industry standard, instead of the credit-bureau-specific scores.
To reduce junk mail sent to a deceased relative, register with the Deceased Do Not Contact List through the direct marketing industry group, www.dmachoice.org.
Here’s information on updating names on utility accounts.
Over the years, I’ve also spoken to a lot of widows who have kept their late husband’s names on their utility accounts for decades, only to perhaps run into a snag when they call and need to make a change.
In some cases, if a new account number is assigned, that could affect a contract you have with an energy choice provider, if you have entered into a separate contract with a marketer. Often, the supplier will honor the previous contract, the utility said, but you should check.
Here’s advice from both Ohio Edison and Dominion East Ohio, which have different approaches:
• Ohio Edison: If the surviving spouse is willing to accept the responsibility for the account, the account number will not change.
If there is more than one account, the surviving spouse will receive a new account number for each.
• Dominion East Ohio: The surviving spouse is asked to establish a new account if he or she is still residing in the home. This will help for security purposes to be able to transact business on the account in any form (such as changing suppliers or enrolling in payment plans or budget billing). Some information on the surviving spouse’s new account might remain as it was before. For instance, if the old account participated in the Energy Choice program or Standard Choice Offer (SCO), those services can continue under the customer’s new account number.
If the surviving spouse is a co-applicant already on the existing account, the company will create a new account number in his or her name. The Energy Choice contract will transfer.
If the surviving spouse is not on the existing account as a co-applicant, the company will create a new account number. However, the contract cannot transfer. The company advises the spouse to contact the supplier about continuing the current contract.