“Closing Accounts That Are In The Deceased’s Name” is part of the Executor Duties 101 series, an occasional series by Executor.org that highlights steps in the process of settling an estate.
If you are the executor of an estate, you know you need to close many types of accounts. From turning off cable television service and getting out of cellphone contracts to closing bank accounts and selling stocks, there can be a lot of calls and stops to make.
For many, the most difficult part of this process is figuring out what information is needed to close these accounts. Here are some tips from our Executor.org legal team, as well as some details about how I stayed organized when I served as executor for my parents’ estates.
The first step when considering what will be needed to close an account is to think like a lawyer. For example, what if someone walked into a bank, asked to close another person’s account and take all the money? What sort of proof would you expect them to provide? What would assure the bank’s lawyer that they were authorized to do so and were not a thief?
First, a lawyer likely would advise a bank to ask for the personal identification of the person wanting to withdraw the money. And they’ll probably want that in the form of a current driver’s license or government-issued ID that includes a photo. Therefore, the first thing you need to bring with you when closing accounts is your own identification.
Next, a lawyer probably would ask why you wanted to close the account. So you need to provide proof of death in the form of a death certificate. Finally, a lawyer would want to know what gave you the authority to take the money. If you are the estate executor, you will have letters of testamentary issued to you by the probate court, so be sure to take that document with you.
Beyond these documents, you may need other information, depending on the account you are closing. While most banks, utility companies, and other service providers can search for an account via the deceased’s address or phone number, it is wise to have the account number handy when you call or visit to cancel an account.
If you are closing a bank account or selling stocks, etc., you also will need to have specific information about where to deposit the money. Keep in mind that money that belonged to the deceased should not mingle with your own personal money nor anyone else’s, even temporarily.
That means you will need to have a dedicated bank account for the estate and any monies from account closures, refunds and credits need to go there.
Personally, when I was preparing to take care of closing my parent’s accounts, I found myself contending with a lot of paperwork, including bank statements, bills, insurance documents, investment reports, etc. So I recommend that you set aside some time to get organized early in the process.
I kept a folder with the documents most commonly needed to close or move their accounts — the death certificate, the estate bank account information, letters of testamentary — so whenever I needed them, they were easy to find. I even made sure the folders were color-coded, which made them easier to find among the other paperwork that collected in my filing cabinet.
The process of closing accounts can be tedious. But it is important to not procrastinate in doing so, especially in cases where the estate is paying for services (cable TV, phone service, etc.) that are not needed and are only draining money from the estate.
With a little preparation and organization, you can make sure you don’t waste time making repeated calls or visits (or end up being held legally accountable for allowing estate funds to be wasted on unneeded services).