It’s easy to get lost in a fog after the loss of a spouse or loved one.
Knowing some of the key steps to take — and making preparations together before a death occurs — can help.
Here is updated guidance.
Have the talk
If possible, talk with your spouse and adult children about finances, account numbers, passwords and where to find things.
According to a 2019 study by Care.com, more than half of U.S. adults don’t have a will.
Also update health care power of attorney and directives, funeral wishes, bank and credit card accounts, life insurance, pensions and retirement accounts, especially 401(k) accounts from previous jobs, said Ted Rossman, a Creditcards.com industry analyst. Check the Unclaimed Funds database at www.com.ohio.gov/unfd or call 877-644-6823.
"It is tremendously important to the surviving spouse and children. It’s hard to unwind all of these accounts,” he said, including social media.
A helpful pre-planning document that Summit County Probate Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer’s office puts together is called a “personal records document.” This link online will provide important documents, like powers of attorney and living wills. The “personal records document” gives you paperwork to record account numbers and other important information. Go to www.summitohioprobate.com/end-of-life-planning-page
Those without Internet access can contact Lisa Mansfield, Stormer’s community outreach specialist, at 330-643-7346 for mailed copies.
Places to notify
After a death, there are so many places to notify, but start with the Social Security Administration. Funeral homes usually report it, but call 800-772-1213 to discuss death benefits. Social Security will notify Medicare, but call to stop premiums.
Contact the credit bureaus to ensure your loved one doesn't become the victim of identity theft, or someone using their name to open new credit. Also, notify creditors. If you contact one of the three major credit bureaus, they share with the others.
Each has slightly different guidelines, but have a copy of the death certificate, the person’s legal name, Social Security number, date of birth and death and name and address for the surviving spouse or executor.
• Equifax: Equifax Information Services LLC, Office of Consumer Affairs, P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA 30374 or fax to 888-826-0598
• Experian: Experian, P.O. Box 9701, Allen, TX 75013. or online at www.experian.com/consumer/upload/
• TransUnion: TransUnion, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016.
Don’t close accounts
Don’t be too quick to close credit accounts as it can hurt your good credit score. Your score can affect auto and home insurance rates.
If you were not on a joint credit card (most issuers make one person primary and the other an authorized user), the account will be closed if you were not the primary account holder.
Check your credit reports. 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.
Go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228. You must disclose your Social Security number to verify your identity. A credit freeze still allows you to get your report.
To reduce junk mail, register with the Deceased Do Not Contact List through the direct marketing industry group, www.dmachoice.org. (Online option only).
• Ohio Edison: If the surviving spouse is willing to accept the responsibility, the account number will not change.
• Dominion Energy Ohio: The surviving spouse is asked to establish a new account. If the old account was with a marketer or aggregation program, contact the supplier. It’s possible the supplier would not extend the same price. If the previous account was on the Standard Choice Offer (SCO), the new account would also be on the SCO, unless the customer chooses something else.
Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or email@example.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty