We all know we have to check the mail. Yes, there may be bills or important documents, and there may even be a greeting card or coupons for your next shopping trip. But when you pass away, have you wondered what will happen to your mail? How does the post office learn of your death? Who has access to your mail and who can protect it?
After a loved one passes away, the United States Postal Service offers guidelines on how to handle the mail. Also, these recommendations will help with the accumulation of mail and unwanted attention to your residence. Unfortunately, identity theft continues to rise, as does mail fraud through our neighborhoods.
The individual with authority to handle the decedent’s affairs is the Personal Representative for the estate. This person, also known as an executor, is appointed through the probate court to handle legal and financial matters. Also, if there is a trust, then the successor trustee may handle the business of the decedent. Using documentation to reflect such authority, the local post office should be advised and provided copies of the paperwork in order to stop mail delivery. Depending on the family situation, this person, or another trusted family member, may reside at the decedent’s home, which could affect how to proceed. If there are individuals that reside or have access to the mail that the decedent would not want to have access, it is important to act quickly.
If you forward mail to another address, please note the post office currently has a one-year limit on the time that mail is sent to a different address. Therefore, during the administration period, the fiduciary for the estate will want to consider whether to update addresses, notify companies and financial institutions, and stop magazine subscriptions. Also, the Direct Marketing Association maintains a “Deceased Do Not Contact” list, such that within three months of the deceased’s name being added to the list, the amount of the advertising mail should decrease.
In addition, it is important to consult with an attorney as notifications could have undesired side effects such as limiting access to information, frozen bank accounts, or creditor action. Sinclair Prosser Gasior can help advise you during the estate administration on these matters and help gain access with the necessary documentation. Unless you shared a mailing address with the deceased, it still is a federal offense to open someone’s mail, so best to act promptly in order to prevent potential issues and to safeguard information.