When someone passes away, their surviving family members have several decisions to make, including what to do with the legal and financial affairs of their loved ones. Although the grieving process can be all-consuming, there are unfortunately several housekeeping tasks that must be taken care of right away. Although they may seem like busy work at first, one will quickly realize that it is for good reason. One of these key tasks is submitting a death notice to the credit bureaus.
Here is an easy-to-follow guide on how it works, who typically should do it, and other helpful tips on this topic.
What Happens to Your Credit File When You Die?
When someone passes away, their credit file will close — eventually. This does not happen right away, and thus creates a need for someone to submit a death notice to the bureaus.
There are several ways that a credit bureau can (eventually) find out about a death. The first is when the deceased person’s creditors update their credit files and marks that the individual is deceased. The creditors often find out directly through a surviving family member. The second source is the Social Security Administration (SSA), which routinely sends out a list of newly deceased individuals to the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. However, this is not a reliable source. There are millions of social security fraud cases in which deaths are not reported. Finally, the surviving spouse or Executor of the estate can report the death directly to the major credit agencies.
When the credit bureau receives the death notice from one of the above methods, they will flag the deceased person’s file. They do not close or delete credit files right away, in case of an error or mistake. However, this step helps prevent fraud and identity theft.
A deceased person’s credit files are finally closed and deleted after being flagged for seven years. The credit report will no longer exist after this action.
Why Do I Need to Report a Death to Credit Bureaus?
When someone passes away, one of the first action items is reporting the death to credit bureaus. While Social Security will eventually notify the agencies, it can take several months. This gives plenty of time for identity thieves to hack into accounts and piece together enough personal data to commit fraud. This might include charging purchases to existing accounts and opening new credit lines.
Family members seldom think to check the credit reports of a deceased loved one, so fraudulent activity can go on for a long time. By calling and reporting the death to the credit agencies directly, you can expedite the process of freezing the decedent’s credit report and protect it from fraudulent activity.
If you are the surviving spouse and have a joint credit account or are listed as an authorized user, be careful of any unintended consequences. When you notify lenders of your spouse’s death, you can unintentionally shut yourself out of availability to credit. If it is a joint account, you can request to keep the line open and active in your name alone.
How to Notify Credit Bureaus of Death
So far, we’ve talked about what happens to a credit report when someone passes away, and why it’s so important to report the death to credit bureaus right away. Now, it’s time to talk about how to notify credit bureaus of a death.
The three credit bureaus you’ll want to notify are: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian.
You’ll want to repeat the following instruction steps for each respective agency:
Obtain the death certificate
Call the credit agencies and request a credit freeze
Send the death certificate
Request a copy of the credit report
Work with the estate executor to close out credit accounts or pay off any remaining balance
We provide detailed instructions for each of the above steps in the following sections.
1. Obtain the death certificate
First, obtain your loved one’s death certificate. The credit bureaus will need official proof to confirm the death.
If you don’t already have the death certificate, you can obtain one from your local government office. Based on your location, this could be your courthouse, city clerk, or records department. Call ahead to find out.
2. Call the credit agencies and request a credit freeze
Next, call the credit agency to let them know that your loved one passed away. This is also a great way to obtain instructions on how to go about filing the written claim. In the meantime, the agency will put a note on the account, thus creating some notice in case fraudulent activities begin before you can file your claim.
Here are the phone numbers for each credit bureau:
TransUnion: (800) 888-4213
Equifax: (888) 548-7878
Experian: (888) 397-3742
3. Send the death certificate
The official way to notify the credit bureaus regarding your loved one's death is by sending a death notice via certified mail. Along with your written claim, be sure to include a certified copy of the death certificate, proof that you are the authorized agent to act on behalf of your loved one, and identifying information of the deceased, such as their full name, Social Security number, birthday, and date of death.
If you are the surviving spouse, you do not need to prove that you’re the authorized agent. However, the executor or other administrator of the estate will need to provide a copy of the testamentary or appointment letter issued by the probate court.
From here, it could take several weeks to await approval from the credit agency.
4. Request a copy of the credit report
Be sure to request a copy of your deceased loved one’s latest credit report. So few family members will think to monitor a loved one’s credit after they pass away, but it’s an important measure of monitoring for any fraudulent activity.
Request a report from each of the three credit agencies. This is a great way to monitor for any evidence of fraud between the time that you submit the death notice and the credit agencies approve the request and flag the account. Further, it’s a way for you to find out if there are any unpaid debts that need to be settled.
5. Work with estate executor to close out credit accounts and pay off any remaining balance
Last but not least, close all of the financial accounts that are related to your deceased loved one’s credit report. This can be done by the surviving spouse and the Executor of the estate. Create a checklist of accounts that need action, such as credit cards, utilities, and bank accounts. If any of the companies require a written notice, then you can likely modify the death notice you submitted to the credit bureaus and use it as a template.
Have More Questions? Review Our Complete Checklist of What to Do When Someone Dies
When a loved one passes away, the grieving process can be all-consuming. Unfortunately, there are some housekeeping items that need immediate attention. Understanding the reason why these action steps are important can make the task easier to accept.
In this case, the required action is submitting a death notice to the three credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. What this accomplishes is placing a flag on your loved one’s credit report, which ultimately protects you and your family from fraudulent activity that could drive up debt and eat into the estate. After seven years, the credit report is closed and deleted.
This was the focus of today’s guide, which we hope you found helpful. Know that there are other important tasks that need to be taken care of after the passing of a loved one. To help, we put together this checklist of all the suggested action items to be taken directly after someone’s passing. You can check it out here. We highly encourage you to get through these important steps quickly to protect your loved one’s memory, yourself, and your family, but also so that you can return to the things that really matter.
Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Browse more topics in our Learn Center or chat with a live member support representative!
Trust & Will is an online service providing legal forms and information. We are not a law firm and we do not provide legal advice.