How to file a life insurance claim in five easy steps

To claim a life insurance policy and receive a payout, beneficiaries must submit three documents – a death certificate, the policy, and a claim form – directly to the insurance company.

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Losing a loved one is never easy, but falling into financial hardship can make a loss even more difficult. Filing a life insurance claim as soon as possible can help alleviate financial stress quickly. The process is as simple as collecting a few documents and contacting the insurance company. Read on for five easy steps you need to follow when filing a death claim, the types of roadblocks you might encounter, and how to confirm if you are the rightful beneficiary of a life insurance policy.

Key Takeaways

  • Life insurance claims are only delayed or rejected in rare circumstances.

  • You can choose to receive a death benefit in the form of a lump sum or annuity.

  • It takes insurers two weeks to two months to process a claim.

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Step 1: Gather important documents

After the death of a loved one, it can be difficult to find energy or focus, let alone gather up all the paperwork needed for a life insurance claim. But having your documents in order can help expedite the process so you can get paid sooner. Luckily, there are just three documents you’ll need to claim a policy’s death benefit:

  1. Death certificate: Certified proof of death ensures that policies are being claimed legitimately and helps prevent fraud. In most cases, you won’t need to file for a death certificate yourself. Rather, you’ll need to request a copy from whoever prepared it: usually the funeral home or medical professional who confirmed the time and place of death. You can also request a copy of the death certificate directly from your local vital records office by phone, in person, or online.

  2. Policy document: The policy document has all of the pertinent information about the life insurance policy: the term, the death benefit amount, policyholder details, etc. The insurer will cross-reference this with its records to make sure you’re filing a claim on the correct policy. If you’re having trouble locating the life insurance policy document, you can try contacting the insurance company directly or reaching out to their financial advisor.

  3. Claim form: Also known as a “request for benefits,“ this is where you fill out information about the policyholder, including their policy number and cause of death. You’ll also indicate your relationship to the policyholder and how you would like to be paid once the insurance company finishes processing your claim. 

Step 2: Contact the insurance company

Once you’ve rounded up all your documents, you’ll need to get in touch with the insurance company that issued the life insurance policy to notify them of the death and file your claim.

How long do I have to file a claim?

There is no time limit when it comes to filing a claim. You’re in your rights to collect a death benefit at any time after your loved one has passed, provided that their policy was active at the time of death. But the sooner you file a claim, the sooner you’ll get paid.


Limit confusion by letting your beneficiaries know you've named them.

- Patrick Hanzel, certified financial planner and Advanced Planning Team Lead

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Step 3: Wait for the claim to be processed

Once you take care of things on your end, the insurance company will perform a few basic checks. First, the insurance company will make sure the policy is still active. Policies lapse if the policyholder stopped paying premiums or if it’s a term policy the coverage term has expired.

An agent will then confirm you are the correct beneficiary assigned to the policy. You may be asked to provide proof of identity by showing a driver’s license, social security card, or birth certificate. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you may have additional paperwork.

Depending on how long it takes to process a claim, the insurer may pay out a death benefit within a few days, but it can take as long as 60 days or longer for non-U.S. citizens or people living outside the country. Insurers are incentivized to pay out as quickly as they can to avoid interest charges on unpaid death benefits. Check with your insurance company to find out what its deadline is, as each state has its own regulations. 

Step 4: Receive the death benefit

Depending on the insurer and the plan, there are a few different ways you can choose to receive the death benefit. The two simplest and most popular options are lump sums or annuities:

  1. Lump sum You'll get the entire death benefit at once and can use it immediately to cover a funeral, mortgage, and so on. You also won’t have to pay taxes on it.

  2. Annuity An annuity is an account where the death benefit is invested, then paid back in an annual payment for a set number of years, beginning from a date in the future. You pay taxes on investment gains.

Step 5: Lay out your final wishes

After your beneficiaries receive the death benefit payout, they’ll likely take on your financial responsibilities. While the death benefit will protect them from financial duress, there is still the new stress of navigating a new financial reality while grieving the loss of someone they love.

Laying out your final wishes — anything from your funeral arrangements to how you’d like the death benefit to be used — can alleviate some of the difficult decisions your loved ones will have to make when you die.

Work with a financial advisor to help map out a financial plan for your beneficiaries. Leaving behind a plan for what the death benefit should go towards, such as college tuition or bills, can help ensure that the benefit is used to protect the ones you love.

How do I know if I am a beneficiary?

The life insurance death benefit isn’t paid out automatically. Beneficiaries must file a death claim to receive the payout, which is why you should talk to your loved ones to find out if you’re named as a beneficiary.

“It's a good idea to make sure your beneficiaries are aware of any policies you have in place,“ says Patrick Hanzel, certified financial planner and Advanced Planning Team Lead at Policygenius. “This can help limit confusion (or risk of unpaid benefits) when a claim needs to be made during an already difficult time.“

There are a lot of life insurance companies out there — and simply knowing you’re the beneficiary of a policy isn’t enough. To file a claim, you’ll need to know where the policyholder bought a policy from. While it’s completely possible to find a lost life insurance policy, it’s extra stress you don’t want to take on when grieving the loss of a loved one.

To be best equipped for the death benefit claims process, ask your loved ones for the following policy information:

  • The policyholder’s full name (to locate the policy)

  • The insurer’s name

  • The policy number

  • The insurer’s contact information for death benefit claims

  • If possible, a copy of the policy

What happens if all the beneficiaries are dead?

If all of your beneficiaries die before you and there isn’t a named beneficiary who can claim the life insurance proceeds, the death benefit may go into a trust that is used to pay off any debts owed by the decedent’s estate. For this reason, you should always list a contingent beneficiary or multiple beneficiaries and update your policy with every big life event.

Why was my claim rejected?

In rare cases, filing a claim will result in the rejection of the claim and termination of the policy. When that happens, the insurer reimburses the premiums paid to the beneficiary or the deceased’s estate, but the death benefit isn't paid. Life insurance claims might be rejected due to:

  • Contestability: A policy's contestability period lasts two years from when the policy goes into effect and protects the insurance company from fraud. It allows the insurer to deny claims if false information was provided during the application process.

  • Policy lapse: If the coverage is no longer active due to missed payments, a claim can't be filed on the policy.

  • Suicide: Policies have a suicide clause that states that a death benefit will not be paid out if the insured commits suicide within the first two years of purchasing the policy.

  • Homicide: If the deceased was killed, the insurance company will wait until any beneficiaries are cleared of wrongdoing before paying the death benefit.

Filing a life insurance claim isn’t as complicated as it sounds, but can be difficult when you’re mourning the loss of a loved one. We’ve compiled a resource for grieving beneficiaries to aid in the death benefit claims process. You can also speak to a financial advisor to learn more about the ins and outs of life insurance and get all your questions answered.

Frequently asked questions

What is the life insurance claims process?

To make a life insurance claim, you'll submit a claim form and death certificate to the insurer. You may be asked to verify your identity.

How long do you have to claim life insurance?

There’s no time limit to file a life insurance claim, but we recommend claiming a death benefit as soon as possible to receive the payout promptly.

How long does it take to get life insurance money?

It can take up to 60 days for the insurance company to process a death benefit claim.