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April 14, 2016

Personal Representative Problems: Safeguarding the Estate from Identity Theft, Part II

greenville SC estate planning lawyer

In Part I of this article, we discussed what “ghosting” is and how easily it can happen to any estate.  In Part II, we will detail how an identity theft of an estate can affect you and the deceased’s family and we will also discuss some ways you can prevent identity theft during the probate process. An experienced probate attorney can help you navigate the probate process.


What Is the Worst That Can Happen?


There are two scenarios that can occur: you find out about the identity theft and have to take corrective action, or due to serious confusion and disorganization, you do not find out that an identity theft has occurred.


In the event that you do not find out about the identity theft before the scammer uses the deceased person’s credit and defaults soon afterwards, the deceased’s estate may suffer. During probate, creditors come for the estate for payment of debts still owed by the deceased. Depending on how they received notice, the creditor may have up to one year to file a claim against the estate. If the creditor finds out the debtor is deceased, they may file a claim against the estate and, if you are not careful, you may pay the fraudulent debt along with the other legitimate debts. The more you pay in obligations, the less there is left for the estate to distribute to beneficiaries and heirs.  


If you do find out that identity theft of the estate has occurred, you should notify the credit bureaus and the police before any damage ensues.


What Can I Do to Avoid Identity Theft of the Deceased?


Vigilance is not the only tool you can use to empower yourself as a personal representative to protect the deceased’s estate. There are some other practical tips we suggest for you to consider in efforts to prevent identity theft of a dead person.


  • Leave the details out of the obituary. While the obituary may be the last chance you and the rest of the deceased’s family have to represent your loved one to your community, it is important to ensure that sentimentality does not get in the way of sensibility at this time.  Scammers often check obituaries first for potential identity theft victims. You can only make their job easier by providing details about the deceased such as the exact date of birth or the deceased’s address.  


  • Do not miss an opportunity to notify any important institution of the decedent’s death. If the decedent left a thorough list of personal accounts, start there. If you need help compiling personal accounts for the decedent, enlist the help of the rest of the family to help put together a list. It is important to then contact each of them to inform them that the deceased has passed and that all accounts should be closed. You may need a death certificate as proof.


  • Obtain a current credit report after the death of the decedent. This will enable you to see who the current creditors are likely to be and to allow the family to ensure that there has been no fraudulent activity. For example, if the decedent did not drive in the last years of their life, then it would look odd that an automobile loan be reported on their credit report in recent years.  


  • Notify the Social Security Administration and IRS.  


  • Notify the Department of Transportation to cancel the decedent’s driver’s license.


You can have help in the probate process. From identity theft prevention to regular execution of the wishes of the deceased, the Anderson Law Firm has experienced probate attorneys in Greenville, South Carolina who are able to help you perform your duties as a personal representative. Contact us immediately for help probating an estate.