The Gerdes family situation is a good reminder to review the steps widows and widowers or family members can take after a loved one passes away. I know that updating records and accounts is the last thing on your mind as you grieve, but itís something that should be done after some time.

Social Security

The Social Security Administration says it should be notified as soon as possible when a person dies. In most cases, the funeral director will report the personís death to Social Security, the agency said, but the family will need to furnish the funeral director with the decedentís Social Security number.

Credit bureaus

The personís death should be reported to the three credit reporting agencies ó to update the credit reports and to prevent fraudsters from trying to steal the deceased personís identity.

Hereís 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.)

ē Equifax: Send a death certificate (photocopies OK) to Equifax Information Services LLC, Office of Consumer Affairs, P.O. Box 105139, Atlanta, GA 30348.

ē 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.

ē TransUnion: Send a death certificate (photocopies OK) to: Trans≠Union, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19022. If the surviving spouse also needs a copy of their deceased spouseís credit report, send the request with a copy of the executor paperwork and include name and mailing address.

Credit experts have also said it is wise to update any joint financial accounts to remove the deceased personís name, but donít close the accounts ó the widow or widower still wants to maintain credit and credit history.

Junk mail

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. (Thereís also a list to reduce junk mail for the nondeceased on that website. If you donít have access to the Internet, ask a friend or relative to help you or go to the local library.)

Utility accounts

ē 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.

ē 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 spouseís new account might remain as it was before. For instance, if the old account participated in the Energy Choice program or Standard Choice Offer, those services may continue under the customerís 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.

ó Betty Lin-Fisher