How do I close the credit card accounts associated with my mother's estate?

8 answers | Last updated: Nov 18, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

I have durable power of attorney on my mother's estate. How do I go about closing her credit card accounts?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

It could just be a matter of confusing legal semantics, which are admittedly awfully confusing, but having a power of attorney does not entitle or obligate you to deal with your mother's estate. In fact, the power in the power of attorney ends at the death of the person for whom it operated.

Perhaps you were appointed the executor of your mother's will, or the administrator of her estate if she died without a will -- and either of those positions would make you responsible for cancelling her credit card accounts.

The procedure is fairly simple -- and surprisingly free of legal mumbo jumbo. The safest route is to take the credit cards in your mother's name, cut them in half, and send the pieces to the company that issued the card along with a statement that she died that includes the date of death. To ensure you have failsafe records, it's a good idea to include an extra copy of your letter and ask that those handling the matter acknowledge receiving your letter by signing it and sending it back to you.

Also, as a gesture of goodwill, many companies have a policy of cancelling the final payment due if it is not too large, so it wouldn't hurt to ask if the particular company has such a policy.

Community Answers

Frederick p. answered...

Why bother to cancel them? Just cut them in half and throw each half in a different garbage bag. Even if someone has the number and charges something, the deceased person (or their representative)has no obligation to pay. Any mail that comes from a bill collection agency, you just write deseased on the envelope, along with "return to sender."

Lawyers will tell you that you can't do this (it's not neat and tidy and they don't make any money if you do that), but you can.

Granny2grandsons answered...

In my opinion, I believe the best thing to do is call the credit card company, explain that you need to close the account because the person is now deceased. My experience has been 1) "We are sorry for your loss, however, there is a balance owed" - my response - "not my responsiblity" or 2) "We are sorry for your loss, thank you for calling, would you mind mailing us a death certificate", my response - "certainly, do you need an original death certificate or will a copy of it be okay?"

I have had one company say "there is a balance owed, when will you be paying the balance" - my response - "No, I'm not responsible but I can mail you a copy of the death certificate". And then the company said "Well, we will go after the estate" - my response - "no problem, after the final expenses, there will be nothing left, so feel free to file against the estate". (Even if there is monies in the estate, it is just a tactic some tacky companies will try - there is no logical reason for them to "waste the money" to file against an Estate when they don't know the size of the Estate). I have had no one file against the Estate - credit card company or any other business. Family relations - yes. Businesses - no.

The practical expert answered...

Several good points made already and here are a few more:

  1. Power of attorney ends at person's death. You must be executor of the Will to be able to close the credit card accounts.

  2. Cutting up credit cards only, doesn't work, the account is still open. If there is a balance due, pay it out of the estate.

  3. You must contact the credit card company directly to find out their closing of the account due to death policy. Some will make you complete a form, some will require an orginal or a copy of the certificate (at death always get 20 death certificates because you will need them and even several years later you will likely need one). Ask for confirmation that the account has been closed and be prepared that it may take quite a bit of time. Keep all documentation for several years.

  4. It is important to talk with the credit card compnay too about amount due. It is not uncommon that payments have been missed and interest adding up. By talking to the company, they will likely agree to a lesser amount - usually the amount owed at death which saves.

  5. Check to see if the credit card was in the senior's name only or joint with another person or spouse. This can complicate things but needs to be discussed with the joint holder and the credit card company.

I do not believe in not paying off the credit cards or left over bills. I belive that is unethical and just plain wrong. That is stealing and any funds beyond burial costs are to pay bills. Only when everything owed is paid, then that amount is the inheritance.

Granny2grandsons answered...

I'd like to add - sometimes, a business will write you a letter after you have already contacted and closed the account. They will ask if any other family member will be willing to pay off the balance. Do NOT do it!!

If the account is in the name of the deceased person ONLY - NO ONE is responsible for it! The company is just "tacky" and "only interested in money"! It's a shame but just remember "Money is the root of all evil!!" For companies that do things like this to grieving families is just unconsciencable! Too bad there isn't an agency to report them to about this actions! I don't know if the state Attorney General office would intervene.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I was executor of my mother's estate, the best way is to pull her credit report from which is free; you should have access to her ss#. You'll see all open accounts with addresses and phone #'s. Call each one and close. Some ask for a copy of death certificate, some don't, but you'll get letters from each one acknowledging the closure. In my state it is your fiduciary responsibility as the executor. The estate is also responsible for any unpaid bills from 7 months since Letters of Administration are granted. You'll have to have your signature notarized for the court that you followed you fiduciary responsibilities in order to close the estate. I had to sell real estate and she had an open line of credit which needed to be closed and filed with the county in order to do so so I could sell without any open liens against the property.

The practical expert answered...

Don't forget to ask if the credit card was just in your mom's name or if another is on the credit card account too, as this can complicate closing it.

Also check to see if there is a fraud alert or travel insurance or other card add-on. The credit card company can tell you and they may be able to help close those too or you may have to do it seperately

Totally agree with Granny2Grandsons - any outstanding bills (solely in the deceased name) come out of the estate and no other person needs to pay them.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Thanks Granny2Grandsons Your info has been will put and very helpful thank for your time.