Ask Unclutterer: Stopping mail for the deceased

Reader Nancy submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My husband and I both serve as executors for the estates of family members. When we arranged to have [the deceaseds’] mail forwarded, we got on marketing lists and are getting tons of mail — even for a family member who died in 2001! How can we stop it? We must have gotten thousands of pieces of junk mail and we are just in the beginning with a new estate!

Nancy, I’m sorry to hear about your losses. You and your husband are so kind to take on the closing of estates during your times of grief.

One thing to keep in mind is that even after taking the steps I’m about to mention, you still might continue to receive junk mail for deceased family members. Some companies have predatory practices and don’t really care who lives at an address. Their goal is to get their marketing materials into a mailbox, and how they obtained an address is irrelevant to them.

Your first step in the process is to talk with your local post office about the mail being forwarded to your address for anyone whose estate is already closed. The USPS will provide you a form to complete and then stop forwarding all mail for this person to your address.

Second, the USPS recommends that you put the name of anyone who is deceased on the “Deceased Do Not Contact List.” From the USPS:

You may request to have the deceased’s name removed from commercial marketing lists. To assist in this process, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has created a Deceased Do Not Contact list. All DMA members are required to remove names on this list from their mailing lists and many non-DMA members comply, as well. Once a name is registered, commercial contacts from DMA members should begin to decrease within three months. There is a $1 fee for the service. To register a name or learn more, visit the DMA Web site.

Again, the USPS and the Deceased Do Not Contact List are not 100 percent. However, following these two steps should significantly cut down on the amount of mail you are receiving. Additionally, if you receive any mail that isn’t junk mail (like a note from an uninformed friend), a phone call explaining the delicate situation is likely your best and most considerate option. Since the name and address of the person appear on the envelope, consult a phone book or your directory information (411) to obtain the person’s phone number.

Thank you, Nancy, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

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27 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Stopping mail for the deceased”

  1. posted by Brian Landi on

    Thanks for this post! Very useful information.
    I would like to add a wrinkle to this dialog and ask for someone to enlighten me on how to remove a deceased person from LinkedIn and Facebook. One of my friends passed on recently from a brain tumor and he is still on those services.
    Any thoughts? Thanks!

  2. posted by Lisa on

    My grandfather died in 1986. He never lived with me or my parents, and I have lived in two apartments and two houses since he passed away. I still occasionally receive mail in his name – which was Horatio, so I don’t think it’s just a coincidence.

    That just amazes me every time it happens.

  3. posted by Rue on

    @Brian I imagine you would need to contact the administrators of the site, explain the situation, and possibly provide documentation of the person’s death (probably a death certificate) in order to get the accounts deactivated. I don’t know what kind of requirements those sites would have, but you might need to be executor of the estate or next of kin to do it.

    If you have the passwords for the account (or access to his email and can therefore have the passwords reset), you can just log in and delete the accounts.

  4. posted by jenG on

    Thank you for this one. I’m closing my mother’s estate this month, and every piece of mail sent to her has been forwarded to me as executor. At this point, it’s a TON of stuff from AARP (despite demanding removal from their mailing lists), plus all the catalogs and free copies of magazines that used to go to her salon.

    I mean, I appreciate never having to buy Glamour and Vogue and all, but…oh, right. I never bought them anyway.

  5. posted by Rue on

    @Brian Found this link for Facebook, though Facebook is blocked so I can’t visit it to be sure it’s accurate:

  6. posted by Jan on

    Thanks for the link, I have two deceased relatives I receive mail for and I just submitted their information. One correction-there is no charge for the service.

  7. posted by Rue on

    @Brian And here is the FAQ explaining how to report a deceased member for LinkedIn.

  8. posted by Erin on

    I’ve gone though this issue with both my father, who owned a business and received a load of commercial mail and catalogs, and my grandmother who, bless her heart, sent money (and thus received mail from) every charity you can imagine.

    Your ideas are certainly much more sound than my handling of it, however, I’ve managed to whittle this correspondence down to less than one piece of mail a month, simply by returning the mail.

    The first important point is DO NOT OPEN THE MAIL, and then write (I use red sharpie) “RETURN TO SENDER. RECIPIENT DECEASED, PLEASE REMOVE FROM MAILING LIST!” and then drop that puppy right back into your mailbox. The USPS is legally required to return the mail to the sender, and the sender must pay the return postage. When companies see you’re not opening their mail and it’s costing them money, most of them will oblige and remove you.

    For catalogs, I’ve been pretty successful with visiting the companies’ websites and just sending a request to their customer service.

  9. posted by Christophe on

    LifeHacker has just published an article about how to organize the way one’s online accounts will be dealt with after death.

  10. posted by Julie K on

    I’ll admit that this is an arduous task and that I’ve never had to do this for a deceased family member but in getting rid of my own junk mail I’ve had lots of success with the following:

    1. Whenever I receive any junk mail I look for the return address. Legally the senders must include their company and/or address somewhere on the junk mail, even those large bundles with circulars and such.

    2. I cut out the sender’s information and recycle the rest of the junk mail. I then place the company’s info in an envelope I have tacked to my bulletin board. If it is a magazine or catalog keep the entire addressed portion because often there is a code above the recipient’s address or they want to know exactly how it is addressed.

    3. One a week (now less than once a month) I do a quick google search of the companies sending the junk mail. Usually you can find a link on the website to remove yourself from their mailing list. If not I call and ask to have our address removed from their mailing list.

    This is by far the most effective thing I’ve done and we now only receive one to two pieces a month. Initially, yes this is a headache but so worth the empty mailbox and less waste.

    **Also Nancy mentioned this started after having the mail forwarded. When you do a permanent address change USPS sells your information to companies who send LOTS of junk mail. In the future do a temporary address change (up to one year) and they won’t sell your information to prospective companies. If necessary you can fill out another temporary address change for an additional year.**

    All of this learned from years of managing mail for multiple recipients in college dorms.

  11. posted by Owengirl79 on

    Thank you everyone…I am just starting on this process for my father-in-law who died last week. I appreciate the good ideas!

  12. posted by enjanerd on

    Thanks, Julie! I definitely need help dealing with the volume of junk mail I receive.

    So is this registry a bad idea to sign up for if you’re not deceased?

  13. posted by Pete on

    Tape a brick to the postage-paid return envelope, with the name deceased (marked deceased) in it. They will take the name right off the list.

    Keep in mind some of these lists were processed for mailing months before the mailings occurred. No way to get off lists that are already in the pipeline.

  14. posted by Karen on

    @Pete Hilarious!

    I’ve got another one. Someone that we don’t know gave out our address as his. We keep getting junk mail for him. How to stop that? I always write “Not at this address” and send it back through the mail, but it’s not helping.

  15. posted by Amy on

    I like to keep things simple. I just throw junk mail in the trash can. Done Deal! All this call here, mail there, google this is too much work.

  16. posted by Jason on

    (@Amy You do at least mean recycle bin, right?)

    We went through this with my father several years ago. Though the mail has mostly tapered off since, I wish I had these resources back then. I hate to think how many trees had to get chopped down, pulped, bleached, covered in ink, and mailed halfway across a continent to someone who couldn’t receive them.

  17. posted by Claycat on

    Thanks so much for this informative post!

  18. posted by Another Deb on

    Mother tells me that I still get occasional junk mail from a record club at the old homestead. That means that for the last 34 years they have been carrying a torch (song) for me!

    Lucky for the folks, they are finally downsizing and moving away from that address. Or was it just to escape the junk mail.

  19. posted by Rondina on

    I have been using to have unwanted catalogs removed from my mailbox. While they do not have all catalogs, you can suggest the addition of others. It takes about three months for catalogs to stop arriving, but it has helped the mail load. IF you purchase from a company and they sell your information, the process seems to begin again.

  20. posted by Louise on

    To add a small twist to this discussion: One of the ways you can help a grieving friend who is dealing with the estate of their late parent is to offer to do exactly this work. Offer to be the person who gathers the junk mail every couple days and takes care of getting the deceased off those marketing lists.

    When my stepfather died, my mother was so overwhelmed with his medical bills and other tasks that the thought of dealing with the junk mail sent her into a tailspin. I took on this mindless but important chore for her, and she really appreciated it. I also learned a lot about my stepfather by seeing what charities he gave to and what magazines he read. There were HUNDREDS! It was a huge amount of work, but allowed me to sit on the couch and just be there for my Mom while I got something productive done.

  21. posted by Julie K on

    @Louise, that is a wonderful idea and such a simple way to help someone.

  22. posted by Angie F on

    Anytime I get a credit card app or some other annoying mail, I check to see if they have included a return envelope that includes postage. If so, I write on the application to remove my name and mail it back to them. I figure if they have to pay enough return postage for useless things, they’ll get the hint and stop sending them. And for the overwhelming majority, it works!!

  23. posted by Jessica on

    My parents now are living in the home that was previously my grandparents’ home. My grandfather died 29 years ago (3 for my grandma) but the phone book and bills were kept in his name by my grandma. Thus, my parents have received, at least once, an offer of life insurance for my grandpa stating “It’s Not Too Late!!! Oh, but we beg to differ!

  24. posted by Kay Chase on

    @Rondina — thank you for the Catalog Choice link! A correction, though — it’s, not dot-com.

    I just set up an account and loaded in several stop requests.

  25. posted by Rosanne on

    I occasionally receive mail for a cat I had who has since died. Even when he was alive, he wasn’t ordering all that much from catalogs. Go figure.

  26. posted by Sandra on

    When my uncle died, I volunteered to have his mail forwarded to me, since he had unpaid bills. It was through receiving his mail that I discovered he’d been secretly gay. I haven’t shared this with any family members.

    One thing that was a little disturbing was that he and I have the same last name and were both on Elderhostel’s mailing list, who combined the names and sent single mailings to “Sandra and Robert W.”

  27. posted by Diane on

    @ enjanerd – We plan to do exactly that: sign up right now though we are not deceased. Can’t think of one good reason why we wouldn’t want a permanent deletion from the DMA records. They are not any kind of official government entity, like the post or tax office, etc. We plan to tell our elderly folks about it too, and we’ll offer to do exactly as Louise suggests for them. Either later or now…!

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