When someone dies, it is essential that the executor makes any final payments and cancels all services, including utilities, in the process of settling the estate. Keeping utilities in a deceased person’s name is fine to do for a few months while the estate is resolved, but utilities should be canceled or transferred to another name as soon as possible. Identity theft and fraud laws protect the deceased and the utility companies, but you shouldn’t have to worry about facing charges unless you intentionally keep utilities in the deceased person’s name to avoid paying for those services. Below, we have the details of the laws that apply in these cases and the steps you should take when handling utility bills as an executor.
Is It Illegal to Keep Utilities in a Deceased Person’s Name?
It is illegal to keep utilities like water, gas, and electricity in a deceased person’s name if you do so to intentionally deceive the utility company. Identity theft and fraud laws can apply in these instances, to protect the deceased and the utility companies, though any legal action will require proof that your actions were ill-intentioned. (The details of each state’s identity theft statutes are available from the National Conference of State Legislatures.) Keeping utilities in a deceased person’s name may constitute fraud if you continue using the services but don’t pay for them, for example; the utility company may say that you are using the deceased’s name to defraud the company of the fees it’s owed.
Utilities should be either canceled or transferred to another person’s name — the name of a surviving relative, new homeowner, or new renter. The time frame for shutting off or transferring utilities may vary by state or even by the utility company, if there is a set time frame at all. Generally, it’s best to update the accounts as soon as possible, but it is usually okay to keep utilities in a deceased person’s name for a few months while sorting out the estate or preparing the property for sale, as long as the executor pays any incoming and final utility bills on behalf of the deceased.
Closing the deceased’s accounts and transferring utilities is the responsibility of the estate’s executor. Contact each utility company’s customer service department to have the name on the account changed. You’ll need to provide personal information, including the account holder’s name, phone number, date of death, and Social Security number. Some companies will request a copy of the death certificate in order to transfer the account.
For answers specific to your situation or any other questions you have about settling the estate, you may want to contact a probate lawyer. Probate is the legal process of transferring a deceased person’s estate to his or her beneficiaries. Not all estate settlements require the assistance of a probate lawyer, but hiring one — even if just for legal advice, rather than formal representation — can help you navigate the estate settlement more easily.
To further protect against identity theft and fraud, be sure to close or cancel other accounts like credit card accounts, memberships, or subscriptions.
It is not illegal to keep utilities in a deceased person’s name if you only do so temporarily, while the estate is being settled. However, you may be charged with fraud or identity theft if you continue using a deceased person’s utility services in their name without making payments, intentionally withholding money from the utility company. If you are the executor of an estate, we recommend closing or transferring all utility accounts and canceling other accounts, such as credit cards and subscriptions, as soon as possible.
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