Tips for closing a loved one’s credit card accounts
Generate a list of your loved one’s current active accounts and the passwords needed to access them.
Identify authorized users, and ask them to either destroy or return their card to you.
Make sure joint/co-signed accounts are being taken care of by the surviving account holder.
Submit your request to close the accounts. Also reach out to the three credit bureaus to freeze your loved one’s credit and protect them from identity theft.
Cross-reference your loved one’s bank statements to check for any recurring or automatic payments for the six months following their death.
When you lose someone close to you, it’s natural to want to put off the administrative tasks involved in their passing. However, certain steps need to be taken care of quickly to protect your family and your loved one’s memory and identity.
Plenty of financial considerations will keep you busy after a loved one passes, and the cancelation of their credit cards should be at the top of your list, to avoid fees and unwanted charges. While you should take the time you need to tackle the administrative aspect of your loved one’s passing with a clear head, it’s a good idea to take the following steps as soon as you can to cancel their credit cards.
If your loved one kept things organized, they might have left you with a list of all their current active accounts and the passwords you will need to access them. If not, when you reach out to the three credit bureaus to freeze your loved one’s credit, you should also ask them for a copy of your loved one's credit report. This will have a full list of all your loved one's credit accounts, both active and inactive.
If you do not have the passwords, the credit card company can give you access to their account information over the phone, as long as you provide them with the identity-verifying information they request.
Once you have established a list of all the credit card companies associated with your loved one, check to see if there are any outstanding balances on the accounts. You can do this either by logging into their account online, calling the credit card company, or monitoring the mail for any invoices or statements.
Settling outstanding balances is not a prerequisite to canceling your loved one’s credit cards; in most cases, the credit card company will need to petition the estate to settle the balance or simply swallow the costs. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, creditors cannot coerce you or your family to pay outstanding account balances through deceptive tactics.
Finding authorized users and co-signers
A crucial step in closing your loved one’s credit card is reaching out to any authorized users so that they stop using the credit card immediately. Using a dead person’s credit card is considered fraud and might expose the authorized user to unexpected financial penalties or even incarceration. To that end, ask authorized users to destroy or return their card to you.
Only joint account holders can use the credit card freely after someone’s passing. If it’s a joint account, the person with whom your loved one opened the account can be held responsible for settling any outstanding debt.
You may also be responsible for settling the account balance if:
You are a surviving spouse, and your state is a community property state (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin). Any debts that your spouse took on during your marriage, including credit card debt, is jointly your responsibility.
You are a surviving spouse or an adult child, and state laws require you to pay specific expenses (like medical expenses).
You are the estate executor or administrator and you did not comply with probate rules. If you pay the wrong debt at the wrong time, or distribute assets to beneficiaries that were supposed to be used to pay debts, you may be liable to pay back any creditor who lost out, including a credit card company.
Get in touch with the credit card company
Now that you have done the labor-intensive work of gathering all their account usernames and passwords, and identifying joint account holders or authorized users, you are finally ready to reach out to the credit card company to close the account.
Most credit card companies have departments dedicated explicitly to loss management, so you will be in good hands once you tell the operator that you would like to speak with deceased account services or the equivalent.
The credit card company may request a copy of the death certificate or any paperwork relating to the estate. This is a great opportunity for you to reiterate your request to close the account in writing.
If the account is a joint account, the issuer will simply remove your loved one’s name from the account. If not, the issuer will close it completely.
The final step
The last thing you will want to do is cross-reference your loved one’s bank statements to check for any recurring or automatic payments. Experts recommend that you monitor the mail and all statements for six months following the person’s death to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks. Canceling a credit card is not enough to void recurring payments, so you will need to manually do so to avoid any fees or notices.
Knowing how to make the right decisions quickly with regard to settling all the nitty-gritty details of daily life after someone you love has passed away is complicated. Following these steps will help you navigate this difficult time and make sure all financial affairs are in order.
You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.
Identity theft after death: A widespread problem
Identity theft is a real and imminent threat after someone you love has passed away. It’s important to be aware of and informed about this common issue. There are proactive steps you can take now to avoid stress later.6 min read
Finding all your loved one’s debts
Most people leave behind some debts when they pass away, and the evidence may be mixed in with all their other paperwork. As the executor of your loved one's estate, you will need to track down and determine which debts they owed and to whom.4 min read
Are spouses held responsible for debts?
If your husband or wife passed away and left some debts behind, you may be concerned about whether you need to pay these back. In most cases, you can rest assured that your spouse’s estate will pay, not you. There are, however, a few notable exceptions.6 min read