Which accounts to keep and which to close

5 min read

Types of accounts and what to do with them

  • Income accounts like bank accounts will be frozen when the bank is notified, and the funds will eventually be transferred to beneficiaries.

  • Credit card and other loan accounts should be closed immediately.

  • Close all memberships and subscriptions, working from ones that charge automatically to those that are free.

  • You may want to leave email and social media accounts open, as well as any utilities needed to maintain the house.

  • You will often need a death certificate to close each account, so make sure to have many on hand.

When someone you love passes away, what to do with their various accounts might not be the first thing on your mind. It’s understandable to want to put off dealing with this sort of thing during such an emotional time. It might feel cold and uncomfortably pragmatic in the wake of more sentimentally charged moments like funeral planning. 

However, closing and transferring your loved one’s accounts is necessary to protect their identity and assets, even if it is sometimes tedious. The major question most people will have is: What accounts do you keep, and which do you close?

In general, you can sort accounts into three types: 

  • Income accounts (bank, insurance, and other accrual accounts)

  • Debt accounts (like credit card and student loan accounts)

  • Utilities, membership, and subscription accounts

These various accounts will need to be handled differently and at different times, depending in part on the probate process. Keep in mind that you will need death certificates to close many accounts, so be sure to have plenty on hand when starting on this task. 

Notifying banks and other income-based accounts

Bank accounts, 401(k)s, life insurance, and annuity accounts will typically either have a beneficiary or become the responsibility of the executor designated in your loved one’s will. Accounts that are part of probate (such as solely-owned bank accounts that are not designated as payable on death or included in a trust), will need to be transferred to the control of the executor during the process. An estate bank account will generally be created to hold these assets, and they will be included in the probate total valuation. 

For accounts that do not go through probate (like trusts, life insurance, etc.), you’ll need to notify the agencies of your loved one’s death as soon as possible. After they present the necessary documents, the beneficiaries will receive their portion of the assets, and then the accounts will be closed.

Credit cards

Credit cards and other unsecured debts will be paid out of the estate if the funds are available, but creditors are not guaranteed repayment. In order to close these and other debt-related accounts, you’ll most likely need the account number, your loved one’s Social Security number, and possibly a death certificate. You should do this as soon as possible to prevent credit card usage and any fraudulent charges that might go unnoticed, since you aren’t monitoring the accounts the same way an owner might. 

If you have not already, call the three credit reporting agencies to notify them that your loved one has passed away, freeze their credit, and get a copy of their credit report.

Creditors have a certain amount of time (which varies by state) to make claims for debts owed against an estate and settle payments, and then the accounts will be closed completely. 

Cancel credit cards as soon as possible to prevent credit card usage and any fraudulent charges that might go unnoticed.

Freezing, and eventually closing, these accounts can also help make sure the estate does not pay for services your loved one will no longer need.

Utilities, memberships, and subscriptions

These days, automatic billing for things like electricity, prescriptions, and even Netflix is prevalent and can result in extra charges once someone has passed. It’s impossible to make an exhaustive list of accounts a person might have, but consider closing or transferring any accounts that come to mind for the following types of services. 

Accounts to transfer

Depending on the situation with real estate and other property, you will want to keep open accounts related to the mortgage and other secured loans, as well as any insurance or utilities necessary to maintain the property. Transfer utilities accounts either to the estate itself or the executor. If you transfer the accounts to the executor, keep good records; the estate should reimburse you during probate. Mortgage accounts can be transferred to the executor or to the person or people who will eventually be taking over the property, if they are willing.

Utilities can include: power and electric, garbage, water, yard maintenance, and/or cable and telephone. Not all of these will need to stay open if the house is staying vacant, but make sure those needed to keep the house in good, salable condition are transferred.

If you have access to them, you might also want to consider keeping open social media accounts (if you want to keep them active for a certain amount of time) and email accounts (so you can monitor correspondence and flag potential fraud). 

Accounts to close

You’ll want to close any accounts that will not be used, regardless of whether or not your loved one was being billed for them. This is in no way a full list, but it should be enough to get you started: 

  • Shopping accounts like Amazon, PayPal, or eBay

  • Streaming accounts like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, or sports sites

  • Gaming accounts for online consoles

  • Dating sites and LinkedIn accounts

  • Newspaper and magazine subscriptions

  • Gym, sports club, or other community memberships

  • Mail and delivery accounts (and if possible, get mail forwarded to the executor)

  • Any automatically filled prescriptions 

  • Cell phone contracts

The basic rule when asking whether to close or transfer an account should be: Who will use this service in the future, and how will they use it? If the answer is that it was only serving your loved one, most likely you’ll want to close it. 

If you start to feel overwhelmed by the number of accounts that need attention, prioritize high-risk accounts (like credit cards and email), then move on to accounts that are automatically charging. Try to stay organized and methodical as you work down the list toward low-priority free accounts like LinkedIn.

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.