Should I give out this identity info? If not, how to politely refuse?
February 8, 2021 3:04 AM   Subscribe

A close relative keeps claiming they're updating their will and need my date-of-birth and last 4 digits of Social Security number. Does that actually make sense, or why else could they want this info? And can anybody suggest a polite, kind, appreciative way to say I'm not comfortable giving this out?

This story seems doubtful to me, since the SSNs of beneficiaries weren't needed at all when I made my own will a while back. I'm a second-degree relative, am reasonably close to this person, and am the only one of my name in the family: wouldn't the executor just know who I am and move on from there? Are there some lawyers who would ask for such a thing just arbitrarily?

On the other hand, I guess last-4 social isn't as bad as full-social, and I'm confused by why else they'd want it. Is last-4 enough to get any serious identity theft going?

Any ideas for approaching the very difficult conversation in the event I refuse to give this out would also be much appreciated! This person is nice, but sensitive, so I anticipate it'll be tough.
posted by Bardolph to Law & Government (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, this is the very first thing that comes up when you google SSN fraud;
“Before 2011, assigned Social Security numbers were based on when and where people were born. ... The Social Security Administration didn't switch to random number assignments until 2011, meaning a fraudster can steal your identity using your state, date of birth, and the last four digits.”

Obviously I don’t know your relative but this random person on the internet thinks you shouldn’t be so concerned with how to say no to your relative without offending them as you should be concerned with, uh, why the heck your family member is attempting to rob you. I mean on the surface, it looks like a really obvious attempt to steal your identity. Are they in some kind of financial trouble?
posted by Jubey at 3:15 AM on February 8, 2021 [12 favorites]

Jubey beat me to it. I would probably say something like, “that’s very generous of you, relative X. I’m not comfortable giving out that information, which wasn’t needed when I did my own will.”

You are right to be suspicious. I did need to give my husband and daughter’s Social Security numbers when listing them as beneficiaries of various bank accounts. So it’s not certain that your relative is trying to steal your identity but I would want to see exactly what this person was up to before I shared such information. And I still might not be willing to. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 3:21 AM on February 8, 2021 [7 favorites]

I've completed two will's not and am in at least one will and have never needed to include this information. I would be worried that your relative is being used to defraud people. Is that a concern you'd feel comfortable bringing up? Maybe being forthright and concerned: I am worried that you are asking for this information since it is not standard for wills. Who are you working with and are we certain we can trust them?
posted by Toddles at 3:25 AM on February 8, 2021 [16 favorites]

I would hesitate to assume that your relative is trying to defraud you rather than just using bad identity hygiene. I mean, for one thing, if I were trying to steal a relative's identity, I would go ahead and ask for the full SSN!

Your relative could be using a lawyer with some weird ideas OR using some kind of form software/book instructions that just blanket recommend using DOB and SSN because you know, some families *do* have a lot of overlapping names. I mean, when I have assigned beneficiaries to my various bank & retirement accounts, the forms generally required the beneficiary's DOB and have an optional spot for the SSN.

As for how to decline the request, it really comes down to knowing your relative and the kinds of things they're sensitive about. I would probably take the tack that you don't want your info on every copy of the will that's floating around because although of course you trust Relative, wills are public and you don't want every other beneficiary of the will and every court worker/paralegal to have your info.
posted by mskyle at 3:56 AM on February 8, 2021 [10 favorites]

Food for thought, if a US social security number was needed, how would people leave things to people who don’t live in the US? It’s not an unusual scenario!

I would just say, oh that’s so kind of you. I’m not comfortable giving out details like that but if you use my full name I’m sure the executor can track me down. That’s all I needed when I did my will’

For that matter, I did my will a few months before my sister married and she’s my executor and I knew she was changing her name. So even her full name as listed in the will wasn’t going to be the same unless I died almost immediately. The lawyer said it wasn’t an issue at all.
posted by kitten magic at 4:06 AM on February 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

When adding beneficiaries to my retirement accounts, I was asked to provide SSNs and birth dates for the beneficiaries. It doesn’t seem totally wild that someone making their will might be sorting out beneficiaries and being asked to provide that information by some bank’s standard forms.

That said! You are under no obligation to provide it, it’s sensitive information, and you’re fine to just say that you prefer not to give out your SSN. If you think the person is going to be weird about it you can play it up as your own personal quirk rather than a bad idea generally.
posted by Stacey at 4:08 AM on February 8, 2021 [16 favorites]

Wills increasingly include name, DOB, and SSN because it significantly reduces the ability of someone to contest the distribution of property, or more specifically, who that property is being distributed to.

I've completed two will's not and am in at least one will and have never needed to include this information.

As a purely anecdotal counterpoint, I'm in several wills, and the lawyers have asked for it for every one.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:08 AM on February 8, 2021 [10 favorites]

Could you ask for the name of their lawyer and provide the information directly to them?
posted by raccoon409 at 4:46 AM on February 8, 2021 [6 favorites]

One way to put things without offending them:
"I've heard a lot of stories about people falling victim to ID theft using SSN and DOB sent over email, so you understand I'm a little hesitant. Is the lawyer who's drafting your will asking for these? Maybe I could call them directly and voice my concerns?"
posted by notsnot at 5:03 AM on February 8, 2021 [11 favorites]

Are they adding you as a beneficiary to their retirement accounts? When my exhusband added me to his, he needed my full social security number.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:05 AM on February 8, 2021 [5 favorites]

When adding beneficiaries to my retirement accounts, I was asked to provide SSNs and birth dates for the beneficiaries. It doesn’t seem totally wild that someone making their will might be sorting out beneficiaries and being asked to provide that information by some bank’s standard forms.

This is what happened when I made my will -- SSNs were not needed for the will itself, but as part of the process my lawyer wanted all my Things That Have Beneficiaries updated, and you need SSNs for those.
posted by JanetLand at 5:21 AM on February 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

We are in two wills (one in Texas and one in North Carolina), and we had to provide full names and full Social Security numbers, but we are also the guardians of children. (One of the people involved also does our taxes every year, so hopefully if they were going to abscond with her information they would’ve done it already.)
posted by joycehealy at 6:44 AM on February 8, 2021

I needed a relative’s SSN when i made them the beneficiary of a 401k. The company’s web form for specifying beneficiaries required a SSN for the person.
posted by umber vowel at 7:09 AM on February 8, 2021

Response by poster: Everyone saying they needed SSNs to appoint beneficiaries for retirement accounts-- does that ever involve just the last 4 digits, or was it the full SSN? That is, is it potentially a warning sign if only the last 4 are requested, or is that pretty standard?
posted by Bardolph at 7:12 AM on February 8, 2021

Caution is good. On the other hand, most of that info is already out there: the EquiFax breach is estimated to have leaked names, DOB, and SSN for 150 million Americans...
posted by soylent00FF00 at 7:22 AM on February 8, 2021

I have provided a full SSN for the woman who will receive my estate. I assume it's just to distinguish her from everyone else who has the same name. There's no sinister plot here.
posted by SPrintF at 7:37 AM on February 8, 2021

yeah I don't think this is for a will (as others have said, even thorough will-making doesn't require this.) But there may be other legitimate instruments, such as what umber vowel suggested.

I'd ask to speak to the attorney who's doing the paperwork. "Relative, you are so wonderfully generous. I am very nervous about data hygiene and I'm not familiar with the process you're undertaking, it doesn't sound like what I did when I wrote my will. Who's the lawyer? I'll just give them a call."
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:37 AM on February 8, 2021

If the will involved any sort of bank account (IRA, etc.) , and some insurance policies, paying entity will likely ask for the full SSN for tax purposes, but ONLY UPON PAYOUT, not for preparation. Generally you specify the beneficiary by their full name, and their relationship to the policy holder.

The will or trust does NOT require SSN to identify the beneficiary to be valid, as long as there is no confusion that the beneficiary is correctly identified by full name and relationship.

I would ask for the purpose of why she needed such, as there is really no need for such to be in the will itself. And this came from several lawyers.
posted by kschang at 7:55 AM on February 8, 2021


There's a difference between legal minimum and best practices. A good lawyer applies practical knowledge and experience, too -- if practitioners in the field have run into bad situation X, and that situation could've been avoided if they'd gotten information Y beforehand, then a good lawyer should probably get that information beforehand, even if it isn't legally required.

But that doesn't mean that's the situation here or that you aren't allowed to want to know why this is happening or be uncomfortable with it.

Also, like other people in this thread, I had to provide last four of the social/DOB to designate people even as secondary beneficiaries on my 401K and life insurance policies.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:37 AM on February 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

I did death processing for a large company for several years- I think the oddest part is that they're just asking for the last 4 of the SSN and not the whole thing. Also, if they're asking for that, it sounds more like a benefit rather than a will, like a life insurance policy or 401k account. (I am not your life benefits specialist, etc, etc, policies differ by company)

Generally when processing out a death benefit, such as life insurance, 401k, etc, we require the beneficiary's full SSN at some point. If it was provided by the employee prior to their passing, we didn't require an SSN card from the beneficiary, just a form of identification. If there was no SSN on file, we needed to confirm their SSN, have them sign an affidavit, and THEN we got another form of ID to verify. We also used DOB/Last 4 as a security measure on calls to confirm the person calling, and employees could just enter the last 4 of a beneficiary's information using an xxx-xx-#### format. So it's definitely possible.

If you're uncomfortable sharing the information, follow your gut even if it's a tough conversation- I don't think being concerned about identity theft is unreasonable, and I think it would be fair to say that you're not concerned about them stealing your identity but having it in a place you can't change/alter/update.
posted by Torosaurus at 8:47 AM on February 8, 2021

I needed this to add my nephew and my best friend to my life insurance and pension payouts, FWIW. I just had them call my union's trust office directly so I didn't see any of the sensitive info myself.
posted by cnidaria at 9:02 AM on February 8, 2021

I wouldn't be comfortable providing that info over an email, but we did provide the SSN of our beneficiary when estate planning. We provided it directly to the attorney, though, and it was never transmitted over an email. You could always ask your relative for their attorney's name and contact information, and you can call up the attorney to give it over the phone if you feel comfortable with said attorney.
posted by juniperesque at 9:11 AM on February 8, 2021

I have been asked to provide the last 4 digits of my beneficiaries' SSNs for multiple kinds of insurances through multiple carriers, and I've had to provide my own for the lawyer-prepared will of a friend that I'm completely certain was not trying to steal my identity. I'm not sure why people are jumping to the conclusion that your family member is trying to steal your identity, but I think it's reasonable of you to tell your family member that you're not comfortable having that information in a will where it could end up in who-knows-what hands. With your full name, date of birth, etc. they can certainly specify and verify your identity some other way.
posted by xylothek at 9:48 AM on February 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

That's would be a hard no for me. There are many types of accounts where you are asked enter the last for digits of your SSN to access the account if you've lost your password. The relative could gain access to lots of your personal stuff with that information. I'd say, "I'm sorry Relative, I never give that information out to anyone and I'm not going to be able to make an exception in this case."

Do not give that info out.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:06 PM on February 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

This would make me nervous. There are two possible failure modes - the relative is being used by someone else to harvest personal data, or they're just careless. Neither is really that likely, but I agree that one should be careful.
You have a lot of options, but probably the best is to get their lawyer's name, confirm that he's a real lawyer, and read him the numbers over the phone after you have him explain why he needs them, and that it's essential.
If you want to deal with your relative directly, switch one number for the next one. When the will is read, claim whatever he left you and say, "Sorry, I must have written the number down wrong." The executor isn't going to deny
you your inheritance over a number.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 1:07 PM on February 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

I was just about to come back and suggest something similar to AgustusCrunch. I have a four digit number I will write down when someone who doesn't need it insists on getting the last four of my SSN. It's a number I remember but it's meaningless
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:10 PM on February 8, 2021

As an estate lawyer, it is my observation that people regularly refer to their planning documents as a "will" even when they involve a trust or other documents. I concur with the thoughts above that the relative may be adding the OP as a designated beneficiary on a retirement account or a TOD beneficiary on an investment account. Those designations bypass a will and the probate process entirely, so any of the comments that are based on how assets are distributed under a will do not apply.
posted by yclipse at 4:03 PM on February 8, 2021

Many years ago (at least more than five) I had to give my now-husband's last four in order to add him as a beneficiary to my retirement and life insurance accounts through my employer. My current company, I believe I had to give the full SSN.

Counterpoint: I was a beneficiary on a life insurance policy and that person definitely did not have my SSN, however I had to provide both mine and the deceased insured person's in order to claim the unclaimed property from the state that was holding it.

Point being that there is a ton of variance here. I don't think it is unreasonable to refuse to provide this information but I would certainly inquire more about why they need it/for what/to whom it would be provided.
posted by sm1tten at 7:09 PM on February 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

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