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The challenge of closing accounts for loved ones

Saying good-bye to a loved one is never easy, but it is far more difficult when left with an unorganized estate plan, complicated assets and no direction. One daunting task involves closing their accounts. The methods of closing accounts are not uniform and in some cases, it can become a frustrating or even drawn-out nightmare.

Here are some things to consider if you are faced with canceling accounts for a loved one.

  • Credit cards and bank accounts: Some companies are more sensitive to grieving survivors. Discover even has a special department dedicated to handling the closing of accounts for deceased individuals. Other companies are not so friendly and unless you are a co-borrower or joint account-holder, you may not be able to close the account meaning it will go to probate. An attorney can handle this process but only if you have retained one.
  • Mortgages: What about the house and property? If there are two names on the mortgage, then it would generally revert to the survivor, but the death should be reported so that sole ownership can be established. Again, different companies can have their own procedures and it is in your best interest to contact the company in question to ask about their policies.
  • Student loans: In this day and age, student loans seem to follow a graduate for the rest of their lives. Federal student loans are canceled and remaining debt discharged if the borrower dies. Private student loans are an entirely different story, so it is a good idea to explore the policies for your loved one's student loans.
  • Utilities/services: Complaints about poor customer service and frustrating process involving utility and other service companies are not without basis. Canceling services due to death is no exception. Some companies even require the survivor or estate to pay fees for the cancelation. It can also be a challenge to get the necessary information to the correct person.
  • Social media: It can be difficult to see your loved one's picture in your Facebook feed the same day you attended their funeral, but you also have to worry about somebody accessing and using the profile. Many social media platforms have devised options for somebody else to access their accounts in the event of death. Facebook allows users to designate one "legacy contact" via the Security menu. It can also allow you to keep a profile up (but regulate use) for those who want to leave messages or share stories.
  • Digital assets: What about that extensive Kindle library or all of those iTunes songs? Consider the photos uploaded to photo-sharing sites as well. It is important to know how much of this can be passed on to an estate and how much simply reverts back to the source. Books and music do not necessarily pass on to heirs but photos and emails might. It is important to look into the terms of service and keep a record of digital property as well as how to access all of it.

The bottom line is that closing accounts under these circumstances may not be clear cut or very simple. Estate planners, administrators and financial advisors can help you and your loved ones create a plan to hopefully make it easier on everyone.

Source: Consumerist, "The Grim But Necessary Art Of Closing Accounts For Dead Family Members & Loved Ones," Ashlee Kieler, March 31, 2016 

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