Susan and Rick were high school sweethearts. I met them as they were just coming up for air. I learned how Rick stood by Susan as she fought breast cancer, when their daughter was 11 and their son 9.
As they sat across the kitchen table from me, they admitted to carrying guilt for not forcing themselves to prepare for the unexpected sooner but were thankful they could make decisions now.
They discussed who their children’s guardian would be and who would make medical decisions for them if they could not. We talked about the best time to convert Susan’s term insurance and started the paperwork for Rick to get the right death benefit in place. We debated how much to save for retirement and if that left them anything to help with the kids’ college.
Over the years, finances stabilized and the exhaustion of their prior circumstances joyfully withered away. When I got a brief voicemail from Susan, I called back half expecting I would need to convince her to spend some of the money they were saving for an anniversary getaway. Instead, she told me Rick had been in a car accident and died.
We sat together at the same kitchen table. We paid the claims and updated her beneficiaries. We talked about how she would not have financial burdens. We updated her legal documents.
I left feeling we had covered it all. But months later, I received a call from Susan. Someone had stolen Rick’s identity after he died.
Just when the sympathy cards stopped, she started getting credit card statements in the mail with his name on them. She started getting bills. A fraudulent tax return was filed in his name.
I was disgusted to find out this was all too common. It’s the fastest growing white-collar crime in the United States; more than 2,000 people per day get their identities stolen after death.
I wish I had known to tell Susan to do the following:
- Keep age and other personal identifying information, like mother’s maiden name, out of the obituary
- Report Rick’s death to the Social Security office
- Cancel his driver’s license to prevent duplicates
- Check his credit report
- Ask each credit-reporting bureau to put on a “deceased alert”
We did everything else right, but I just didn’t know this. Think of these steps the next time a client dies. It’s up to us to do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen to others.