HOWTO: Handle Closing Dead People’s Accounts

Anyone wishing to avoid the pain voiced by Sharon G in, “Sprint Harasses Grieving Mother For Two Years,” should read the guide inside.

It’s an eight point primer to closing dead people’s accounts and canceling their contracts, graciously sent in by reader Seth.

The guide covers the importance of having lots of death certificates to send to companies, a fancy thing called Letter Testamentary, and the importance of, above all, keeping one’s sense of humor.

The last thing you want interrupting your grieving is a phonecall from the cellphone company asking where your dead son’s money is.


Seth writes:

Some years back I went through a period when I was the executor (or administrator) of three estates, so I’ve run into my share of “so and so is dead and now I want to do such and such” sort of problems. Despite my best efforts, all three parties were still dead when I closed their estates, but I learned so much I almost quit my job to start an executor’s services company.

Among the things I learned:

1) Always get LOTS of death certificates. Even savage beasts, like airlines, will massively adjust their attitudes if you toss one of these their way. Figure out how many you think you’ll need then get some extras. You will need them.

2) Get a good supply of Letters Testamentary, but not too many, because these expire in 30, 60 or 90 days, depending on the paranoia levels of the institution you are dealing with. Having a Letter Testamentary is like owning someone’s account.

3) Debts do not terminate with death, though most contracts do. If you are absolutely desperate to get out of that cellular plan, dying might work for you. Your estate will still have to pay the final bill, but I believe the estate gets to keep the phone. It is possible that I will learn otherwise if I keep reading Consumerist.

4) Death certificates are NOT public records. They are generally issued to family members and those posing as family members with little checking, but if you don’t have the same last name or address as the deceased, you’ll have to provide FRESH letters testamentary.

5) Many types of stock options vest completely immediately upon death, even if the death occurred before the initial public offering.

6) If you ask nicely, most phone companies will change the voice mail recording and replace it with their standard one. A lot of people think it is creepy when a dead person answers the phone, so this was good news. The phone companies will still ask you to send them a death certificate. I don’t know if they’ll restore the original message if you fail to do so after 30 days, but nothing is impossible.

7) It doesn’t matter if the testator has signed each page of the will. The only signature that matters is the one at the bottom. For some people signing each page, but not at the bottom is perfectly in character, and one can imagine laughing with the deceased about the oversight.

8) Keeping one’s sense of humor is absolutely essential when dealing with death. It doesn’t lessen the blow, but it does help when dealing with airlines, phone companies, tax auditors, insurers, banks, brokers, and bureaucrats.