The death of a loved one, such as a beloved spouse or parent, creates so much stress that it's easy to forget about outstanding credit cards. To avoid even more trauma, you should take charge of managing the status of those credit card accounts as soon as possible.
The Canadian Bankers Association advises that you take into account that each credit card issuer has its own policies related to card cancellation -- and even those can vary by card. Your first step should be to organize a list of active credit card accounts, and then research specific card requirements.
Who to contact
For American Express Canada cards, you should either write or call American Express Canada's customer service team and inform them that the cardholder is deceased. For most bank-issued cards, both Visa Canada and MasterCard Canada recommend that you contact your local bank branch for help.
Tip: The Canadian Bankers Association also suggests checking with an estate lawyer who deals with these matters regularly.
to deactivate an account
When you contact American Express Canada's customer service team, you must provide:
- Your name and contact information.
- The date of your loved one's death.
- The name and contact information of the estate executor or trustee.
The customer care professional documents this information on the account and immediately deactivates the card so no further transactions are allowed. A Toronto-area bank manager also confirmed that his branch requires similar information to cancel a deceased person's account.
Tip: Set up a diary to record call confirmation numbers, dates and the names of all parties who help with account deactivation.
How to officially cancel an account
A deactivated card isn't the same as a cancelled card. Deactivating a credit card account protects the estate against fraudulent charges, including identity theft. However, annual fees as high as $500 will continue to accrue until the account is officially cancelled.
A copy of your loved one's death certificate is the key document required to cancel credit card accounts. American Express Canada's Account Services area cancels the deceased's account as soon as a faxed or mailed copy of the death certificate is received.
The death certificate also enables your friendly neighbourhood bank to arrange final cancellation of the deceased's bank-issued credit card.
No further annual fee charges are added after cancellation. The annual fee payable is prorated based on the number of days during the year that the account was open prior to cancellation divided by 365.
Tip: Insist that the customer service representative or bank manager provide you with written confirmation specifying when the account was cancelled.
Next steps after account
Credit card companies still expect to collect any outstanding balances after an account is officially cancelled.
Typically, the estate lawyer and executor or trustee deal with paying creditors from estate assets, so work closely with those parties when you deactivate and cancel the deceased's credit card accounts.
It's extremely important to remain calm, methodical and highly organized throughout these processes. This can be easier if you email yourself to-do lists and summaries of action items and accomplishments, then store those messages in a specially named email folder.
Tip: By staying organized and focused, you'll make the best of what can be an extremely stressful situation.