A loved one’s passing is challenging on many different levels. In addition to the emotional difficulty of processing someone’s death, there are also the many tasks that must be dealt with, such as determining what bills and services to cancel–and keep–when a loved one dies, as well as going through their various accounts and taking the necessary steps to cancel them or transfer ownership.
Most people subscribe to multiple digital subscription services in addition to utilities, insurance, memberships, medical prescriptions, and other recurring payment programs. Settling these accounts helps avoid unnecessary charges and protect against identity theft and fraud. If the duty to handle outstanding accounts falls to you, you will first want to identify which accounts your loved one held and then figure out what to do with them.
Deciding Whether to Cancel or Keep an Account
The first step is to figure out what accounts the deceased had by looking through their mail, email, or phone notifications. You may get lucky, as the deceased may have compiled a list as part of their estate plan. Once you have identified what accounts were in the deceased’s name, you can move on to the next step of deciding whether to cancel or keep them.
Subscription services are low-hanging fruit. Unless the service has a shared family plan, it can most likely be canceled.
The typical American has five subscription services, and one in five has eight or more subscription services. In addition to digital media services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, YouTube TV, and Apple TV, do not forget delivery services like Amazon Prime, Walmart+, and subscription box services.
Also keep in mind that Amazon Prime and Walmart+ members may have recurring monthly deliveries for certain items. And then there are digital subscriptions to newspapers and magazines, which may be linked to a Kindle account. Kindle Unlimited, which has 150 million subscribers, is another account that may need to be canceled.
 John Glenday, US Subscription Fatigue Is Real, with Consumers Managing an Average of 5 Accounts, The Drum (Nov. 16, 2022), https://www.thedrum.com/news/2022/11/16/us-subscription-fatigue-real-with-consumers-managing-average-5-accounts.
Independent content creators are a large contingent of the digital media ecosystem, and a growing number of services provide opportunities for “digital patronage,” or delivering direct, recurring support to online content creators.
Platforms that enable digital patronage include Patreon, Twitch, Substack, YouTube, and Facebook. Outside of these platforms, creators may enable patronage, such as subscriber-only content, through their own website.
You can check bank or credit card statements to find out if a loved one has any subscriptions to their favorite content creators. Like subscription services, patronage accounts are prime cancellation targets.
Utilities may need to be temporarily kept in the deceased’s name, transferred to another account holder, or canceled, depending on the circumstances.
- Keeping utilities in the name of the deceased should be okay on a short-term basis while the estate is resolved, but you might want to check with the utility company.
- If utilities were in the deceased’s name and they lived with somebody else, the accounts should be transferred to that individual. The same goes for a family member who plans to take over occupancy or ownership. For example, the house may have been gifted to a beneficiary in the will or established as family property with joint sibling ownership.
- Utility accounts can be canceled following estate administration, but consider the timing if the house is being put on the market. Typically, in the event of a sale, utilities are kept on until after closing.
- Although not technically a utility, a home security system deserves the same consideration as utilities. Security is particularly important for a home that is left vacant for extended periods while settling the estate.
- Do not deactivate a loved one’s cell phone service until you have retrieved all of the information you need from the phone. Again, this can include notifications about bills and other services that need to be canceled or transferred.
Many accounts fit into the main buckets listed above, but it may take a thorough sleuthing effort to uncover every account linked to a loved one’s name. Here are some more examples of accounts you may need to resolve, either by canceling or, where possible, transferring account ownership:
- Memberships to gyms, sports clubs, cultural institutions, unions, homeowners associations, Costco, and other fee-based groups or services
- Physical newspapers, newsletters, and magazines
- Social media and dating sites
- Financial advisor, personal trainer, accountant, life coach, etc.
- Pet-related dues and subscriptions
- Meal delivery services
- Music subscriptions (Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Sirius XM, etc.)
Probate, Estate Administration, and Executor Legal Assistance
As you deal with the emotional challenges of a death in the family, you may be simultaneously navigating legal issues related to losing someone close to you. Being named an estate administrator or executor comes with a lot of responsibility. Our estate planning attorneys offer services tailored to executors that help them do right by their loved one—and the law. For answers to your estate administration questions, reach out to our team.