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Whether you’re working on your last will and testament and it’s got you thinking about what your family will need to do after you pass away or you’re currently handling the estate of a loved one, you may be wondering what happens to your credit when you die.

“Experian doesn’t close or delete a credit file immediately after a person dies,” according to Kristine Snyder, an Experian spokesperson. “Instead, the file will be ‘flagged’ to indicate the individual is deceased. Doing so is important because it actually helps prevent using the deceased’s identity to commit fraud.”

What to Do After a Relative Passes Away

“When it comes to a death in the family, you may need to take care of several financial issues, including obtaining the person’s credit report and identifying any active credit accounts,” Snyder said. “Do your best to compile a list of debts that the family member has.”

In the midst of this, it’s important to remember “that not all creditors report to all of the credit reporting agencies,” Snyder noted, so it’s a good idea to request the deceased person’s credit reports from the three major credit reporting bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

“The executor of the estate or an individual with legal authority, such as their spouse, can obtain the deceased’s credit report at no cost,” Snyder said. “To request a report, they need to provide a copy of the death certificate along with court documentation showing that they are the legally appointed executor of the estate.”

How to Add a Deceased Label to the Reports

If you recently had someone pass away, “the most common way for a deceased indicator to be added to a credit report is by lenders,” Snyder said. “Families notify lenders that the accounts should be closed or that one party on the account is now deceased. The lender then sends that indicator to the credit reporting companies when they send their account updates.”

“Spouses may request that a deceased indicator be added by providing a copy of the death certificate,” Snyder said. “Executors or others representing the deceased party must also provide proof of their legal representation.”

Helping Prevent Identity Theft

“If someone were to try to use the dead person’s identity to apply for credit, the lender would receive a ‘deceased indicator’ and would be able to stop the transaction and take appropriate action,” Snyder said. She said this is preferred over deleting credit files after a person passes away because, if they were just immediately deleted, an “identity thief would have a better chance of success,” as lenders wouldn’t be notified the account shouldn’t be used and “with no warning, the lender might proceed with the application process.”

It’s a good idea to review your credit regularly, as a sudden dramatic change to your scores could be a sign of identity theft. You can access free copies of your credit reports from the three major bureaus once each year by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also see two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

What Happens Next

“Accounts with the deceased indicator will be deleted after one year,” Snyder said. “At some point, all of the accounts will be deleted and the credit report will no longer exist. A deceased indicator from the Social Security Administration (SSA) applies to the entire credit report and tells those requesting a report that the person has died, according to the SSA or documentation provided by the executor of the estate.”

Image: Ridofranz

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