This is the fourth of a series on the duties of an executor. Think of it like a checklist, with everything an executor needs to take care of. To make this list as comprehensive as possible, we’ve divided the series into 12 parts.

 To view the series in its entirety, follow this guide:

The death of a loved one, on top of being emotionally taxing, comes with many administrative loose ends.

In life, we become intertwined with so many different service providers, retailers, social platforms and institutions. After a death, it’s up to the executor to help manage all of these connections and sever (or modify) them in order to protect the estate.

These are the loose ends that need tying up.

Notifying financial institutions

In later life, many people choose to add a loved one to their bank account. This makes it a joint account, meaning when one person dies, the account is simply left as is to the other account holder. There are no interruptions and the funds are left to the remaining account holder. This can simplify financial situations when someone dies, as well as assist when one person is incapacitated and no longer able to maintain their own finances.

In the case of a bank account where the deceased was the sole owner, things can be more complex.

Many banks allow their customers to name a beneficiary or name a person to whom the account is Payable on Death.

Notifying the bank of the death will release funds to the named person. Banks often have their own distinct policies, but you will likely need a copy of the death certificate as well as proof that you are the executor of the estate.

If no beneficiary is named, that’s when the executor comes in. The executor becomes responsible for using the account to pay creditors, pay for funeral expenses and divide the account among those named in the will. Once funds have been removed for immediate expenses, like funeral planning or securing the home, the account should be frozen to prevent any inappropriate transactions. 

Cancel credit cards and transfer rewards

When you are gathering important documents, ensure you have all of the credit cards belonging to your loved one.

Prior to cancelling any cards, look into card programs your loved one was a part of and see if there are any programs or rewards that might be redeemable to beneficiaries or may be lost once the card is cancelled. You also need to pay any outstanding balance on the cards with funds from the estate.

Contact each credit card company individually by calling the number on the back of the card. Be prepared to provide the company with your information and information of the cardholder, like their Social Security number.

You can work with the credit card company to learn how incoming rewards can be transferred to the correct beneficiary. Executors, depending on the card issuer, may be able to administer rewards for a certain period after the date of death.

Rewards do vary by program and by card, and are often administered separately by other companies like Air Miles, Aeroplan, etc.. In some cases, they have practices where points can be merged with or transferred to another account.

Cancelling utilities and services

When someone is no longer occupying a home, there is no longer a need for all of the services keeping their home maintained.

For example, you will likely want to cancel any Internet, home phone and television accounts.

In some cases, however, you may want to transfer accounts to your name and pay for costs from the estate to keep the home maintained. This is especially important if you are living in a colder climate during the winter and there is risk of pipes freezing. In this case, it makes more sense to protect the home by paying to keep heat on.

If you have concerns about security, you may also want to consider keeping power services to the home in order to set up timed lights or ensure you can safely access the home in the evening.

Cancelling memberships

In an increasingly digital world, there are a host of online subscriptions and memberships, as well as physical ones, your loved one might have been paying for. It’s important to catch these early to avoid paying more from the estate than necessary.

If you have access to banking records or credit card statements, check them for what appear to be recurring charges.

Some memberships to watch out for:

  • Gym memberships
  • Product subscription services
  • Subscriptions to publications
  • Online streaming services
  • Clubs and associations

Forwarding mail

Mail accumulating in a community mailbox or on a front doorstep can indicate someone is no longer living at the home. This opens the home up to risks. It can also mean missing out on important documents that come in the mail if they are lost or damaged while unattended.

Contact United States Postal Service (for United States residents) or the Canada Post (for Canadian residents) to have mail sent to a forwarding address. Pick an address, like your own, that will be monitored appropriately.

Notifying pension and security benefits

In the United States

In the United States, collecting a deceased person’s Social Security benefits is a crime. That’s why it’s important to notify governing bodies right away.

In most cases, the funeral home will contact the government for you. You will need to have your loved one’s Social Security number on hand. This is the form they fill and send. You can also reach out to Social Security.

There are survivors benefits in some cases when an individual passes. This guide from Social Security outlines when these benefits can be given and how to get in touch.

In Canada

You will need to contact Service Canada to cancel pension and benefits. Be sure to have your loved one’s SIN on hand.

In most cases, Service Canada does not require proof of death to cancel Old Age Security and Canada Pension Plan benefits. In situations where proof of the date of death is required, Service Canada will notify the estate or the person responsible for handling the deceased's affairs.

It’s important to note that you cannot collect benefits for someone who is deceased. You can only collect them up to the month of death. After this, any payments deposited will have to be returned to Service Canada.

Rules do change if the person died outside of Canada, so follow Service Canada’s instructions here.

Notifying tax authorities

Every year, many causes of identity theft take place when fraudsters take on the identity of deceased people. It can go undetected for a while, during which time a lot of damage can be done. And, that damage takes a lot of cleanup work to fix.

You can prevent identity theft by letting tax authorities and governing bodies know about the death of your loved one right away. 

In the United States: The IRS is your go-to contact. Send the IRS a copy of the death certificate and they can then mark the account to indicate the person is deceased. You may also send a copy of the death certificate with their final tax return, to add an extra layer of notice. You should also send copies of the death certificate to each credit reporting bureau asking them to put a “deceased alert” on the deceased’s credit report. You can help avoid fraud by not putting too many personal details, like date of birth, or the person’s maiden name.

In Canada: Contact the CRA as soon as possible to notify them of the death. You can let them know by phone, or by completing a form and send it to your tax services office. If your loved one was paying tax by instalments, no additional payments need to be made following their death, unless those were due before the date of death and are still unpaid.

Handling social media accounts

Social media is a big part of daily life. And, after death those accounts don’t just go away. You might want to delete these accounts right away. Or, you might want to see how you can use them to help memorialize your loved one.

If there are pictures or cherished words from their social media profile, ensure to save them in a separate place to help preserve them - whatever you plan on doing with the accounts.

Take stock of all of the active profiles your loved one had on social media. Different platforms have different policies and approaches for when someone dies.

Facebook: Facebook’s policy is to create a memorial account when they have been informed of a death. This keeps the account and contents as is, but lets profile visitors know the person is deceased. It also helps to keep the account secure and prevent malicious parties from logging in. In the best cases, your loved one would have set up a “Legacy Contact” in Facebook that allows the designated contact to take over the account and manage it securely. Legacy contacts can also request the account be removed.

If no one has been appointed as a legacy contact, there are steps you can take outlined here.

Twitter: When someone dies, Twitter will work with the executor or verified family member to have the account deactivated. You can request the removal of a deceased user's account after which Twitter will ask for information about the deceased, a copy of your ID, and a copy of the deceased’s death certificate.

Instagram: Instagram is owned by Facebook and follows a similar policy. They will allow a verified family member to request a memorialized account or to have the account deactivated. To proceed, they need proof of death like an obituary or a death certificate.

Other social media platforms, like TikTok, do not currently have policies in place.

Next in the Executor Duties Checklist, taking inventory.