How to file a life insurance claim

You can submit a death certificate and claim form directly to the insurance company to start a life insurance claim.

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Julia KaganContributing EditorJulia Kagan is a contributing editor at Policygenius, where she specializes in life insurance. Previously, Julia was the senior personal finance editor at Investopedia for nearly a decade, a vice president and editorial director at Consumer Reports, the editor of Psychology Today, and the vice president of content at Zagat Surveys.&Rebecca ShoenthalEditor & Licensed Life Insurance ExpertRebecca Shoenthal is a licensed life, disability, and health insurance expert and a former editor at Policygenius. Her insights about life insurance and finance have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Fox Business, The Balance, HerMoney, SBLI, and John Hancock.

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Antonio Ruiz-CamachoAntonio Ruiz-CamachoAssociate Content DirectorAntonio helps lead our life insurance and disability insurance editorial team at Policygenius. Previously, he was a senior director of content at Bankrate and CreditCards.com, as well as a principal writer covering personal finance at CNET.
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Maria FilindrasMaria FilindrasFinancial AdvisorMaria Filindras is a financial advisor, a licensed Life & Health insurance agent in California, and a member of the Financial Review Council at Policygenius.

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Filing a life insurance claim is a straightforward process that requires you to submit a few documents directly to the insurance company. You’ll also choose how you wish to receive the death benefit, but it may take a few weeks to a few months to process the claim. 

Below are four easy steps to follow when filing a death claim, plus information on how to find out if you’re the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, and how to handle potential roadblocks you could encounter.

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1. Collect important documents

Having your documents in order can help expedite the claims process. Luckily, there are just three documents you’ll need to claim a policy’s death benefit.

  • The certified death certificate is a document that provides proof of death. Typically, you’ll need to request a copy from the funeral home or medical professional who prepared the death certificate and confirmed the time and place of death. You can also request a copy from your local vital records office by phone, in person, or online.

  • The policy document contains information about the life insurance policy including the policy number, amount of the death benefit, and the names of the beneficiaries. If you’re having trouble finding the policy document, contact the insurance company or the deceased’s financial representatives.

  • The claim form, also known as a “request for benefits”, is where you fill out information about the policyholder, including their policy number and the cause of death. You’ll also provide your relationship to the policyholder and how you’d like to receive the death benefit.

2. Contact the insurance company

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

If your policy was serviced through Policygenius, you can also contact us and we can help you with this process.

Read more about what a life insurance broker is and how they work

How long do you have to file a claim?

There is no time limit when it comes to filing a claim. You can collect a death benefit at any time, as long as the policy was active when the policyholder died. The sooner you file a claim, the sooner you’ll get paid.

3. Wait for the claim to be processed

Once you file the claim, the insurance company will perform a few basic checks. It will make sure the policy is still active and confirm you’re the beneficiary (you may need to provide proof of identity such as a driver’s license, Social Security card, or birth certificate). You might have additional paperwork to complete if you are not a U.S. citizen

The insurance company may pay out a death benefit within a few days, but it can take as long as 60 days. Insurers are incentivized to pay out quickly to avoid interest charges on unpaid death benefits. Check with the insurance company to find out what its deadline is, as each state has its own regulations. 

4. Receive the death benefit

Depending on the life insurance company and the specific policy, there are a few different ways you can choose to get the death benefit. The two simplest and most popular options are a lump sum or an annuity.

  • A lump sum pays out the entire death benefit at once. You won’t have to pay taxes on it.

  • An annuity is an account into which the death benefit is invested, then paid back in annual installments for a set number of years, beginning from a date in the future. You’ll owe taxes on investment gains.

Either way, you can spend the life insurance death benefit however you need to, depending on your financial obligations.

Learn more about how a life insurance annuity works

How do you know if you’re 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 manager at Policygenius. “This can help limit confusion (or risk of unpaid benefits) when a claim needs to be made during an already difficult time.”

When a loved one dies, you can search for life insurance policies that name you as the beneficiary using your state’s life insurance policy search or the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' Life Insurance Policy Locator Service.

What happens if all the beneficiaries are dead?

If all the beneficiaries die before the policyholder and there isn’t anyone to claim the proceeds, the death benefit may go into a trust that is used to pay off any debts owed by the decedent’s estate

Avoiding this scenario is why policyholders should always list a contingent beneficiary or multiple beneficiaries, and update them as needed.

Why can your claim be rejected?

In rare cases, life insurance claims may result in rejection and the termination of the policy. When that happens, the insurer reimburses premiums the policyholder had paid either to the beneficiary or the deceased’s estate, but the death benefit is not paid.

  • Contestability: A policy’s contestability period lasts two years from when the policy goes into effect. During this time, the insurer can deny a claim if false information was provided during the application process.

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

  • Suicide: Policies have a suicide clause stating that the death benefit will not be paid out if the insured commits suicide within the first two years of the policy. (The time frame can vary by insurer, but two years is the most common.)

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

Aside from these circumstances, life insurance will cover most other causes of death.

Filing a life insurance claim isn’t complicated, but it 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

How do you file a claim for life insurance when someone dies?

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

How quickly are life insurance claims paid out?

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

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.

Authors

Julia Kagan is a contributing editor at Policygenius, where she specializes in life insurance. Previously, Julia was the senior personal finance editor at Investopedia for nearly a decade, a vice president and editorial director at Consumer Reports, the editor of Psychology Today, and the vice president of content at Zagat Surveys.

Rebecca Shoenthal is a licensed life, disability, and health insurance expert and a former editor at Policygenius. Her insights about life insurance and finance have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Fox Business, The Balance, HerMoney, SBLI, and John Hancock.

Editor

Antonio helps lead our life insurance and disability insurance editorial team at Policygenius. Previously, he was a senior director of content at Bankrate and CreditCards.com, as well as a principal writer covering personal finance at CNET.

Expert reviewer

Maria Filindras is a financial advisor, a licensed Life & Health insurance agent in California, and a member of the Financial Review Council at Policygenius.

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