A couple of years back we ran an informative article on how to protect yourselves from added expenses after a loved one goes home to be with the Lord.  Since then, we have met with many families that still have these specific issues to deal with after a death of a spouse or lifetime partner has occurred, so we thought that this was important to address again. 

Main issues involve the telephone, water, electric and gas billings.  If you are married, or cohabitating, it is extremely important that both parties are named on each billing.  The reason that this is so important is because, instead of Arizona being #1 in hospitality, (after all, tourism is our main trade); we are #1 in “identity theft”.  Not something we should be proud of, but definitely, not something we should ignore.  We need to each take responsibility and protect ourselves and our loved ones. Reality is, with the exception of God, no one takes better care of you than you.  God gave us each a brain, and expectations are that we are to use this most valuable tool God blessed us with.  Utility companies are not concerned with who is on the billing.  They are just concerned that the bill gets paid.  However, because we are #1 in identity theft, it is extremely important that we remove our loved ones name from everything after their death has occurred.  If the decedents name was the only name on the billing, the spouse or partner can be charged a turn off and a turn on fee, not to mention a security deposit, as though they had never occupied the residence.  In many, many cases, we’ve experienced the reality that the deceased is never removed, leaving his/her name open for theft.  This is only done because the widow/widower just can’t fathom another expense.  This can be dangerous but, in today’s economy, it’s somewhat understandable.  It’s definitely not wise, but in some cases, it’s a “financial” decision they are forced into making.  Please inform others of this information as it only takes a phone call to add a spouse or partner to the billing.

There are those out there that watch the obituary section, just looking for their next “victim”.  There are three main reasons for this, (if you think long and hard, I’m sure you can come up with more but the following are the most common).  Reason #1.  To steal the identity of the deceased:   #2.  To vandalize the home while services are taking place.  #3.  To approach their next victim for some type of financial sham, luring one in to make monthly payments (or one lump sum) on an “intangible” that doesn’t exist. 

I, personally, experienced a situation with the Social Security office when my uncle passed away in August of this year.  As I instruct all of our families, I reported his death to Social Security.  Please keep in mind that there was no surviving spouse and no dependant child which means that there was no death benefit.  I made the call, released his date of birth, date of death, social security number, and acquired their address to send his death certificate once it arrived.  They confirmed his previous address and confirmed that he had “direct deposit”.  To my surprise, the person at the social security office asked me for my social security number.  Now, most people wouldn’t have thought twice and would have just recited their number like it was no big deal.  IT WAS A BIG DEAL!!  I was to receive no benefits; I’m a niece, not a spouse.  I immediately informed the gentleman that there was “absolutely no need for him to have my social security number as I had not died, nor was I receiving a benefit.”  He thanked me and the conversation was over.  When I was asked that question, my thoughts went immediately to the DMV fraud that recently occurred where employees were issuing fraudulent drivers licenses to those that paid the right price.  Always, make sure that there is a legitimate reason for this specific information to be acquired.  If you are a beneficiary of a pension plan, life insurance policy, bank account or estate, your date of birth and social security number would be justifiable and reasonable information to release, but never if you are not the beneficiary.  This will probably come as a shock to a lot of you, but crooks and thieves can also penetrate our government offices, so don’t feel that, because it’s a government office, you need to release this information.  Be cautious, ask questions, and protect yourself.  Chances are that, if the individual is uncomfortable with your questioning, they probably don’t realistically need this specific information.

I hope that this information is helpful to you and we thank you for taking the time to read this article.  Happiest of Thanksgiving to all of you and, though things are looking tougher for all of us financially, please keep the faith and remember that God cares for and feeds even the birds.  Will He not also feed and care for us? 

As always, Bill and Ingried Lowman are available 24/7 at (602) 276-3601toll free (877) 276-3601, and fax (602) 276-1889.  If you’d like to use our e-mail; wlowman@lowmansazfh.com, you must type in a subject regarding your question or the e-mail will NOT be opened.  We need to know that the request is legitimate and not a virus.  Thank you!