Q.  My father just died and I have been named as his executor. Are there steps I should take to protect against theft of his identity?

A.  Yes. As disturbing as it may seem, even the identity of the deceased is subject to identity theft.By one estimate, thieves steal the identities of more than 2 million deceased Americans every year.  Part of the reason these thieves are successful is that it can often take up to six months for credit agencies to be notified of his or her death.  In the interim, the identity thieves strike, apply for credit, make purchases, and even access the deceased’s financial accounts.  So, yes, steps can and should be taken immediately after the death of a loved one.  Here is a short list of action steps:

  • Be careful about the kind of information you put in the obituary: avoid putting information that might be used in a credit application, such as date of birth, last address or mother’s maiden name. Thieves read these obituaries precisely to glean that information.
  • Send, via certified mail, certified copies of the decedent’s death certificate to each of the three major credit reporting agencies, namely Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, advising of the decedent’s death. Include a copy of the decedent’s will or trust certification showing that you are the executor or successor trustee charged with handling the decedent’s affairs.  With your letters, furnish the decedent’s full name, date of birth and Social Security number, along with his or her most recent address and date of death.  Most important: request that the credit bureaus put a “deceased – do not issue credit” alert on the deceased’s credit files.
  • Send copies of the death certificate to each bank, insurer, credit card company and other financial institution where the deceased had accounts.
  • Cancel the decedent’s driver’s license by notifying the Department of Motor Vehicles.
  • Continue to monitor the decedent’s credit report for at least a year to make sure that there are no problems. A free copy of the credit report is available annually to executors or trustees, so I would recommend ordering one from each of the separate credit agencies every four months.  To order your free report, go to AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. You can opt to either download a copy instantly or receive a printed report in the mail.

By taking these simple steps, you can protect the identity of your loved one and help to ensure the successful administration of his estate.