Checklist: Accounts You Need to Close After Someone Dies

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Closing a loved one’s many accounts after death may seem like a tedious task, but it’s essential. If not, you risk incurring future charges (say, if a credit card with an annual fee auto-renews) or having your loved one’s identity stolen. This checklist can help you figure out how to close some of the most common types of accounts. In some cases, you’ll need to provide proof of death in the form of a death certificate.

Bank accounts 

The process varies a bit, depending on whether you’re listed on the account.

  • If you’re a joint account holder: You’re legally an owner of the account and don’t have to present any information about the death in order to close the account.
  • If you’re the named beneficiary: Accounts that contain a payable-on-death custodial clause can be closed (and any balance collected) by presenting a copy of the death certificate and proof of ID to the bank.
  • If you had power of attorney: This document allowed you to access and manage the person’s account while they were alive, but it automatically ends upon death. If you’re not a joint account holder or named beneficiary, you’ll have to be named an executor of the estate by a probate judge to close the account.
  • If you’re a surviving spouse or family member: Only the executor of the deceased person’s estate (or a joint account older or named beneficiary) can close a bank account. If your loved one didn’t name an executor in his or her will (or didn’t have a will), you’ll have to wait for a probate judge to appoint an executor.

Utilities 

If they were in the deceased’s name, you can either cancel or transfer them into the name of a survivor by calling the utility provider’s customer service number. To speed the process, have the most recent bill handy when you call.

Mortgage

With a home loan, closing the account really involves transferring the mortgage to an heir. If the mortgage was held by the deceased person only, it will be transferred to his or her estate, and the executor is responsible for making payments while the estate is settled. Once the home is passed to an heir, that person can either pay off the mortgage balance, transfer the mortgage to his or her name, refinance the home loan, or (in rare cases where more is owed on the mortgage than the home is worth) walk away from the property.  

Cell phone contract

Call the customer support number and say that you want to cancel or transfer a contract and explain why. You won’t have to provide proof of death, but any remaining balance on the account will be due when you cancel.

Mail 

Complete a Change of Address form with the U.S. Postal Service to forward your loved one’s mail.  

Student loans 

If a federal student loan borrower dies, the loan balance will be cancelled and discharged. Simply contact the lender and provide proof of death to start the process. For a private student loan, the balance may be forgiven, but it’s more common for that debt to be part of the estate, which means it must be paid before other property or assets can be passed on to heirs. (Contact the lender directly to see if they offer a discharge in case of death.)

Credit cards 

You can call the number of the credit card company on the back of the card to cancel. Be prepared to give the deceased’s name, Social Security number, and reason for cancellation. You won’t typically be required to supply proof of death or your relationship to the deceased. Keep in mind, though, that any accounts which are automatically paid with that credit card (such as a water bill or Netflix subscription) won’t be paid, once this account is closed. You’ll have to transfer payment for any accounts that you want to stay active.  

Newspaper and magazine subscriptions 

Either call or email the customer service representative found on the periodical’s site. Some may issue a partial refund for the unused portion of the subscription.

Local memberships 

Organizations or groups that require monthly dues, like gym, sports, theater, or museum memberships, tend to offer non-transferable membership. If your loved one paid for an annual membership, it’s unlikely you’ll get a refund, though it’s always worth asking. Contact the organization’s membership department directly.

Online accounts 

From Netflix and Hulu to social media to email, your loved one likely had an abundance of digital accounts. A digital estate plan can spell out how to access each and what should be done with all of the photos, emails, videos and posts left behind. But if there’s no digital estate plan—or you want to close any of these accounts—you’ll have to contact each site for specific instructions.

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