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credit & debt

How Do I Cancel My Parents'Cards?

Advice for managing credit accounts of a deceased relative.

Q: Both of my parents have passed away. I ran a credit report on them and several credit cards came up. I haven't found the actual cards, and I don't know the account numbers. How can I cancel these cards?

Your parents' credit report should provide a phone number for each credit card listed. Call the number and explain your problem. The issuer should be able to locate and close the account if you supply some basic information, including the name, Social Security number and address of the cardholder. You may be asked whether the estate is in probate, and the issuer may request a certified copy of the death certificate.

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If the credit card has a balance, you will likely be asked to pay it from the estate. "The general rule," explains Martin Shenkman, an estate-planning attorney in Teaneck, N.J., "is that the debt is of the estate and the estate must pay." If the estate does not have adequate cash to clear the outstanding balance, you may have to sell some assets.

If that is still insufficient to cover the amount owed, you and any other heirs are not liable. Your parents' debt is not passed on to you, and the credit-card issuer will write off the amount as uncollectible. However, paying off credit-card debt does take precedence over distributing bequests that are specified in a will. "If the bequests are made first and the debt cannot be paid, the executor of the estate is personally liable," says Shenkman.

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