On a more “practical” note than usual, I’m going to talk about recurring subscription charges, and what to do with them if someone you know dies. Whenever I’m hired to assist in executor duties for an estate, I get to work looking for these “hidden assets” because chances are the deceased may have “invested” money in some overlooked places that renew automatically.
If these recurring expenses are paid from an open bank account or to a shared credit card, companies will continue to charge those orders. If the account was already closed after the person’s death, the company may also send automatic emails saying they were unable to charge the payment method on file.
Don’t immediately reply that the person is deceased and tell them to remove the account. People often buy multiple things from the same company. Which means there may be other money already paid out that can be refunded to the estate. If you tell them to close the account, you may miss the opportunity for the estate to be paid back.
Refunds are assets.
Once you’re named as an executor or personal representative for the estate and you have a handful of certified Letters Testamentary (that’s what says you have permission to take care of the deceased’s financial matters), and a handful of certified Death Certificates, the rest is easy. Scan both documents separately into your computer so you can easily forward them on when requested.
Now, let’s take a quick look at these commonly overlooked assets and see how to find and reclaim the money for the estate and the beneficiaries:
1: Subscriptions. Most people instantly cancel subscriptions of mailed newspapers, newsletters and magazines when someone dies. But then there’s digital publications, which can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars annually. Search the deceased’s emails going back at least 18 months for the word “subscription.” Review the last 18 months’ worth of bank statements and credit card statements. Make a list of any charges that could possibly be for subscriptions, which may have been paid annually.
Start with the subscriptions that cost the most and that have been most recently bought or renewed. If you have the deceased person’s login information find their subscriber number. If you don’t know the person’s password and have access to their email, send a password reset so you can get into the account. Double check recurring orders and expiration dates. Then send an email through the company’s “contact us” form for subscribers. Identify yourself and provide your contact info, plus the email address the deceased used when placing the order, the subscription or account number — anything that would be helpful. Notify the company of the person’s death, and what subscriptions the deceased had. State that you’ll be willing to provide your Letters Testamentary and a copy of the Death Certificate and that you’re requesting a refund for this and any other pre-paid subscriptions. Tell them to make payment by check to the name of the estate and give them the mailing address.
Keep watch in your email for responses and promptly reply. Some companies will refund directly via check and others will say they have to refund via the same payment method. That’s all good if the card is jointly held or still open. But if the account has already been closed, reach out to the Public Relations department of the company and request that an exception be made and a check be cut.
2: Prepaid and recurring orders for products, services and donations. These days, most companies give a discount for annual prepayment for monthly or quarterly services. During the lockdowns, many people signed up for on-going deliveries of products or services, like groceries and medications. In today’s digital age, you may likely find recurring monthly or annual charges for digital services, like Microsoft 365, anti-virus software, or website hosting. For local service companies (like the annual furnace maintenance, for example) it may be fastest to call the company first and then fax or email requested documents. For others, you can simply access the deceased’s online accounts using the same method as for subscriptions, and cancel any future recurring orders, letting the company know the subscriber is deceased and requesting a refund for the balance of the annual amount paid.
3: Prepaid supplemental insurance. Many people buy specialty insurance, like cancer insurance and pay an annual premium. Call or write the companies immediately and request a refund for the unused portion of the premium. If you call, they can tell you what additional information they may need to initiate the refund. See if they’ll let you email the information to them. If not, then send a letter with the information they require, plus a copy of the Death Certificate and Letters Testamentary (if needed). And send the letter “certified mail, return receipt requested” which is that funny green card, and a green and white slip that the post office provides.
It’s amazing how quickly a bunch of $150 refunds can add up to significant assets for an estate. And when the refunds are closer to $1500, you’ll quickly see the value in chasing down these hidden assets.