It's easy to get lost in a fog of financial worries after the loss of a spouse, relative or other loved one.

Knowing some of the key steps to take — and making preparations together before their death, if possible — can help to ease the frustration.

Today's column provides updated guidance on this topic; you may wish to clip and save this or pass this information along to others who may benefit.

Have the talk

If you're able, have a conversation with your spouse while he or she is still living — and your adult children — to get everyone on the same page when it comes to finances, record-keeping and where to find things.

Taylor Tepper, a financial planner analyst with, said the conversation doesn't have to be uncomfortable or threatening for anyone involved. But it's imperative.

“You want to have a very honest and open conversation because one of you is going to die first and you don't want to be the person left who doesn't know about finances,” he said. “Get a bottle of wine and go over which credit cards you have, if there's debts and do a full audit of everything so you know exactly what's going on and do it in tones and talk with language that's understanding and not belittling.”

Notify credit bureaus

After a death, contact the credit bureaus. The biggest reason is to make sure that your loved one can't become the victim of identity theft, or someone using their name to open new credit.

It's also important for your creditors to know the person has passed. You will need an official copy of the death certificate, but the credit bureaus will now take photocopies for their records.

You should also notify the Social Security administration. In most cases, funeral homes will report a person's death to Social Security. The number is 800-772-1213.

Widows and widowers used to have to contact all three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, to report a death. Through a new initiative in August 2016, if one bureau is contacted with a notice of a death, they will share with the other two.

Each of the three has slightly different guidelines for reporting deaths, but at least make sure you've got a copy of the death certificate, the person's legal name, Social Security number, date of birth and name and address for the surviving spouse or executor of the estate.

• Equifax: Send a copy of the death certificate to Equifax Information Services LLC, Office of Consumer Affairs, P.O. Box 105139, Atlanta, GA 30348.

• Experian: Send a copy of the death certificate 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 copy of the death certificate 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.

It is unclear whether Innovis, a fourth, lesser-known credit bureau, participates in the initiative to share death notices among credit bureaus, so it would be best to contact Innovis directly. Send a copy of the death certificate, your name and address, the deceased consumer's name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number to Innovis Consumer Assistance, P.O. Box 1640, Pittsburgh, PA 15230-1640

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. Credit scores can be used not only in credit decisions, but there are also scoring models for your auto and home insurance rates that can be affected by your credit history.

You want to keep the accounts open to keep your good credit history, which affects your credit score, going, said Tepper.

It's also a good idea to play it safe and contact your creditors to notify them of the death, he said.

However, Tepper said, while it makes financial sense to keep accounts open, unless “there's some sort of emotional reason” for the surviving spouse to keep a joint account open, the account should be closed.

Also, sometimes older women don't have as much of a personal credit history if they didn't have accounts in their own names. If that's the case, the widow should consider opening a secured credit card after the death to establish credit, he said.

It's also important to check your credit reports in the midst of your changing circumstances. 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 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. A credit freeze still allows you to get your report.

To reduce junk mail sent to a deceased relative, register with the Deceased Do Not Contact List through the direct marketing industry group, (There is no option to mail the request.)

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.

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 Energy Ohio: The surviving spouse is asked to establish a new account if he or she is still residing in the home and does not have the account under his or her name. If the old account participated in the Energy Choice program or community aggregation programs, it would be the customer's responsibility to contact the supplier to establish a contract for the new account. It's possible the supplier would not extend the same price the old account had.

If the previous account participated in the Dominion Energy Ohio's Standard Choice Offer (SCO), the newly established account would also automatically move to an SCO supplier, unless the customer takes action to choose to enter into a contract with an Energy Choice or aggregation supplier. The new account initially would bill at the Standard Service Offer (SSO) rate, which is essentially the same as the SCO. If the customer does not choose an Energy Choice or aggregation supplier, the customer's account would revert to the SCO price by the third bill.

Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or and see all her stories at