How to file a life insurance claim

To file a life insurance claim, submit a death certificate and claim form directly to the insurance company.

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Amanda Shih

Amanda Shih

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih is a licensed life, disability, and health insurance expert and a former editor at Policygenius, where she covered life insurance and disability insurance. Her expertise has appeared in Slate, Lifehacker, Little Spoon, and J.D. Power.

&Rebecca Shoenthal

Rebecca Shoenthal

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

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.

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Maria Filindras

Maria Filindras

Financial Advisor

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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Filing a life insurance claim as soon as possible can lift some of the financial stress of losing a loved one. The process is as simple as collecting a few documents and contacting the insurance company. Below are four easy steps to follow when filing a death claim, how to prepare for potential roadblocks, and how to find out if you're the beneficiary of a life insurance policy.

Key Takeaways

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

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

  • You can choose to get the death benefit in a lump sum or annuity installments.

  • You need policy information, proof of death, and personal ID to file a claim.

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Step 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:

  1. Certified death certificate Certified proof of death helps prevent fraud. You usually won’t need to file for a 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 directly from your local vital records office by phone, in person, or online.

  2. Policy document The policy document includes information about the life insurance policy, like the policy number, death benefit amount, and beneficiary names. The insurer cross-references the policy information with its records to make sure you’re filing a claim on the correct policy. If you’re having trouble finding the policy document, try contacting the insurance company or reaching out to the deceased's 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 processes 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 can collect a death benefit at any time after your loved one has passed as long as their policy was active when they died. 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 the coverage term has expired on term life insurance.

An agent will then confirm you're the beneficiary named in 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 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 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 life insurance company and the plan, 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:

  1. Lump sum You'll get the entire death benefit at once and can use it immediately to cover a funeral, mortgage, and other expenses. 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 installment for a set number of years, beginning from a date in the future. You pay taxes on investment gains.

How do I know if I'm 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.“

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 prepare for the death benefit claims process, make sure you have 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

  • 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. You should always list a contingent beneficiary or multiple beneficiaries and update your policy with every big life event to avoid this.

Why was my claim rejected?

In rare cases, filing a claim will result in a rejection 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 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

How do you claim 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.