Can You Buy A House After Death?


Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain committed suicide in 1994.

But that fact has not stopped him from buying a house posthumously. Make that identity thieves posing as the deceased rocker. According to Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, during the last five years thieves have stolen $72.5 million from their daughter, Frances Bean’s trust fund. Scam artists then opened as many as 188 credit cards in Cobain’s name, and even purchased a home in New Brunswick, New Jersey last year.  “I would like to know how,” Love told the U.K.-based tabloid The Sun (NWS). “He should probably get his ass back home if that is the case.” The ex-Hole singer claims to have known about the fraud for years, but because of her well publicized drug use, no one believed her. “I knew it had been going on since when I went cuckoo- bananas – in 2003. It was fraud after fraud,” she said. “But nobody believed me until now.”

Love’s irresponsibility and drug abuse may have made it easier to lose the alleged $72.5 million, but surprisingly, there aren’t many roadblocks preventing the theft of a deceased person’s identity. “You’d think the fact he’s dead would make a difference, but for a bank or creditor with 100,000 open accounts, they can write off four to thieves,” says Gail Hillebrand, senior staff attorney at the Consumers Union. “The business incentive against fraud isn’t as strong as it should be.”

The Social Security Administration does maintain a national death registry, but there are only three guaranteed ways to get on it: if your spouse  files for survivor benefits or veteran’s benefits, or if you received social security benefits. The national death registry is accessed by the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax (EFX), Experian and TransUnion in order to flag which accounts to close. “But even if  [Love] notified all of Cobain’s credit card companies and closed his accounts upon his death, there’s only a 50% chance they would notify the death registry,” says Jay Foley, executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center, a non-profit organization based in San Diego, Calif. Because there is no definitive system for creating a comprehensive registry, you can never assume a person’s credit history will be appropriately tagged when he or she dies. “Every county has a medical examiner responsible for processing death certificates. Those then go from the county to the state. But they aren’t forwarded to the Social Security Administration for inclusion in the registry," says Foley. "We’re currently advocating for that to change.” Scott Mitic, CEO of Trusted ID, an identity theft protection service, agrees. “The way the credit bureau learns about a death is really by chance. The information almost has to trickle back and if it doesn’t that credit file remains active.”

Until the death registry becomes more comprehensive, the best thing you can do is send a copy of the deceased’s death certificate to all three major credit bureaus, as well as the social security administration. “If a loved one dies, immediately freeze their credit reports,” says Mitic. “Contact all lenders, and then get a credit report for the person who passed away and make sure each credit report that’s active and open receives written correspondence that the person is deceased.”

And before worrying about identity theft in the afterlife, keep tabs on how you share personal details in the current one. “Don’t just share information willy nilly, but ask [which] companies will get access to it, how will they protect it, why they want it and how it will be disposed of,” says Foley. “There has to be a legitimate reason, like because of a tax requirement or federal law. That’s scary if a person doesn’t know the answer to those questions. And if they don’t, how will they protect your information?”




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