Identity theft is a growing problem and horror stories of the problems suffered by victims are all over the news and the internet. Unfortunately, it also seems the perpetrators of this kind of fraud are just as clever as those trying to stop them, inventing new and ingenious ways to obtain your private financial information. And, it isn’t just the living that are affected. Each year in the United States alone approximately 2.5 MILLION dead people’s identities are stolen. This is more than a final disrespect to your late family member or friend. It can wreak havoc on the estate and cause tremendous problems for the heirs or beneficiaries.
What can the family do?
There are steps that the family can and should take, however, to minimize the risk to a deceased loved one’s identity. The Internal Revenue Service recommends the following:
- Send the IRS a copy of the death certificate, this is used to flag the account to reflect that the person is deceased
- Send copies of the death certificate to each credit reporting bureau asking them to put a “deceased alert” on the deceased’s credit report
- Review the deceased’s credit report for questionable credit card activity
- Avoid putting too much information in an obituary, such as birth date, address, mother’s maiden name or other personally identifying information that could be useful to identity thieves
What can the estate representative do?
In Oregon and many other states the person applying to the court to be appointed as the personal representative of the estate MUST include the deceased’s Social Security number in that initial application (see ORS 113.035(1)). Fortunately, Oregon courts offer a procedure for filing that information in a protected manner, by ‘segregating’ it from the public record. This procedure is outlined in the Uniform Trial Court Rules (UTCR’s) under rules 2.100 and 2.110.
When the person seeking appointment as the personal representative first meets with an attorney, he or she should ask the attorney about protecting this information. Using UTCR 2.100 and 2.110 to segregate Social Security numbers from probate petitions is not a part of all attorneys’ regular practices. By making sure your attorney understands that you want to take advantage of this procedure to protect the deceased’s identity and the estate, you can potentially avoid serious difficulties down the road. And, because in the law serious difficulties often mean serious expense, avoiding problems can mean saving more estate assets to distribute to the heirs or beneficiaries.
For more information on how to protect your deceased loved ones or yourself from identity theft, visit www.idtheftcenter.org.
For informational purposes only and not to be relied upon as legal advice.
by Brook D. Wood