"An identity thief will look for any document with personal or financial information," Moore says. "You need to gather up things like their wallet and ID, their bank statements and hospital records. Even old military records can have information that's useful to criminals."
But the documents shouldn't be limited to physical paper, says Smith-Valentine, who advises people to use password protection on the computer of a recently deceased relative.
It's also important to limit the number of people who have access to the deceased's personal papers, according to Vonder Heide. He says family members have been known to steal the identity of a loved one, especially if they suffer from addiction or have serious financial problems.
Look for suspicious activity
While it's important to act quickly after a loved one passes to guard against identity theft, it's also important to stay vigilant in the months that follow, Siciliano says.
"The best thing people can do while they're alive is invest in identity-theft protection, which monitors your credit," Siciliano says. "Credit monitoring is about $10 a month, and in the grand scheme of things, that's cheap. Even when the person dies, the service continues to protect them."
But if your loved one dies without identity theft protection, it's a good idea to pull their credit report two and six months after they pass away, Smith-Valentine says. And if their estate takes longer to close, you should keep an eye on their identity during that time as well.
While Smith-Valentine says neither the family members nor the estate will be liable for any charges incurred after death, it's a good idea to stay on top of the issue for peace of mind. If a loved one's identity is stolen after they die, bill collectors are likely to call and you can bet that a lot of time and anguish will be spent filling out paperwork when most people would rather be thinking happily about the memory of someone they loved.
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