Protecting the Legacy of Your Loved Ones

By Shelly Chamaschuk, Team Leader of Wills, Estates & Trusts

An obituary often shares details about a funeral or memorial service, and importantly, honours the deceased’s life and legacy. However, as the CBC recently reported, police have warned that obituary information can be used to commit fraud. The article outlines a number of scams that have resulted in successful identity theft and fraud.

This is a real issue. When we act for personal representatives (executors), we advise them to take a number of steps to reduce the risk of identity theft. We outlined some of these in our recent post, You’re an Executor. Now What?. They include:

  • Cancelling all credit cards and freezing all bank accounts with a letter stating that you are the executor and attaching a statement of death from the funeral home. In the letter, request confirmation of the final account balance and that the account will be closed once the balance is paid in full.
  • Cancelling health care cards, driver’s licenses, passports, memberships, and any other cards with personal identifying information.
  • Notifying insurance companies, utility companies, and service providers.

However, when executors are busy dealing with the legalities of an estate, the risks associated with an obituary may not be evident. It may seem tempting – or even obvious – to provide information including the deceased’s date of birth and the names of all their surviving family members. Unfortunately, this exposes their estate, and indeed their legacy to risk. It also exposes every listed family member to risk at a time when they may be most vulnerable.

Because of this, care should be taken when writing an obituary. Consider not naming children or grandchildren, not including details about the deceased’s date and location of birth, and omitting specifics about their neighbourhood or community. Instead, you might focus on your loved one’s character and qualities. With effort and thought, it is possible to create an obituary that honours their life and underscores their accomplishments, without risking the integrity of their very identity.

The recent warning from police also suggests alerting the Canada Revenue Agency, Service Canada, and credit bureaus. In Alberta, the two major credit bureaus are TransUnion and Equifax. When notifying a credit bureau of a death, you can expect that they will require the following:

  • A signed, written request to place a flag on the deceased’s file;
  • Proof of the deceased’s identity (copies of two forms of identification, including one photo ID);
  • Proof of your identity (copies of two forms of identification, including one photo ID);
  • A copy of the death certificate; and
  • Proof of the executor (for example, a copy of the will).

This extra step will help to ensure your loved one’s legacy is protected.∎

If you have questions or would like advice, reach out to our Wills, Estates and Trusts team.

This post is meant to provide information and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should consult a lawyer. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this post to be outdated.