Losing a loved one can be incredibly difficult, particularly if you are responsible for handling their estate. On top of the emotion and loss, there is the planning, paperwork and daunting task of paying off any debts they might owe — daunting because sometimes finding all their accounts can be difficult.
Fortunately, the three major credit bureaus will make a deceased loved one’s credit reports available to some family members. And while not all creditors might report accounts to the bureaus, it can be an excellent place to not only start finding the accounts, but also protect your loved one’s identity from being stolen post mortem. (You can keep an eye on your own credit by pulling your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and by viewing two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.)
Checking a Deceased Person’s Credit
“It’s pretty straightforward,” Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian, said. “If you’re the executor [or the spouse] we should be able to provide a report online today if you go to Experian.com/upload.”
But before you jump into making that request with Experian or the other two major credit reporting agencies, TransUnion and Equifax, there are several things you’ll need to do. It’s also important to note that each of the bureaus has different requirements for who can request the credit reports for a deceased person, and those requirements are subject to change, so it’s a good idea to call and check before beginning the process.
In general, however, there’s a checklist for the steps you should take in order to get a deceased loved one’s credit reports and ensure their accounts are secured.
1. Contact the Credit Bureaus
Call all three credit bureaus (see contact information below) and ask what documents are needed based upon your particular relationship with the deceased (are you the spouse, a child, a financial agent for the estate such as the power of attorney or executor?). Different documentation could be required for your particular situation.
2. Gather Your Documents
If you are the deceased’s financial agent (durable power of attorney, executor or executrix), make three copies of that document, one for each credit bureau. If you are not a financial agent, you might need to get letters testamentary from the probate court where your loved one’s will is filed (the will must be filed before you can request this document). You’ll also need a copy of the deceased’s death certificate and their Social Security number, plus any other documents the individual bureaus might require.
3. Request the Reports
You can likely make these requests online, but our experience in trying to do so showed that it is not a particularly straightforward process when requesting a second-party report, so mailing in the documents could prove easier. Send a copy of the certified death certificate, and any documents the individual bureaus require to the credit reporting agencies. It’s a good idea to include a letter explaining what you are trying to accomplish. Be sure to include the deceased’s name, address and Social Security number.
4. Contact Social Security
Contact the Social Security Administration to let them know your loved one is deceased. They will then contact the three credit bureaus to place a deceased indicator in the credit reports. This will help to keep identity thieves from opening new accounts in the deceased’s name.
5. Alert Creditors of Your Loved One’s Death
Once you receive the reports, you can contact each creditor to let them know of your loved one’s passing in case they have not already been notified. They will be able to put a deceased indicator on the individual account, helping secure it from identity theft, and you can also ask about handling any outstanding balances. If your loved one died with a will and any assets, the estate will likely handle paying any outstanding debts, but it doesn’t hurt to discuss any balances and expectations.
Here are the phone numbers and mailing addresses of the credit reporting agencies.
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022
Equifax Information Services LLC
Office of Consumer Affairs
P.O. Box 105139
Atlanta, GA 30348
P.O. Box 2002
Allen, TX 75013
Image: Johnny Greig