How quickly do life insurance companies pay out death claims?


It may take no more than a week or two or as long as two months to receive the death benefit. However, the time it takes is contingent on a number of factors.

If you have a life insurance policy, when you die, the life insurance company will make a payout to your beneficiaries in an amount stipulated by your life insurance policy. This payout, known as a death benefit, is meant to protect your family from the financial burden of losing your income) and could be put toward paying all kinds of living expenses.

It may take no more than a week or two or as long as two months to receive the death benefit. However, the time it takes from filing a claim to receiving the death benefit is contingent on a number of factors, including when and how the deceased died, local laws governing insurance company payments, and the insurance company’s own procedures.

But before you receive the death benefit, you need to file a claim with the life insurance company. The claim alerts the carrier that the policyholder has died and under what circumstances. The life insurance company will process the claim and pay the death benefit as long as the policyholder followed the company’s rules and didn’t make any misrepresentations.

For that reason, if you know or suspect you’re the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, you should file a claim as soon as the policyholder is dead.

How quickly life insurance companies pay out death claims

How quickly you receive the death benefit payout is partially influenced by how quickly you file a claim and fill out the right forms. Many life insurance companies let you file a claim online, and they will ask you for a selection of relevant documentation in order to prove the claim.

The life insurance carrier will review the claim. Assuming the information is accurate, you could receive the death benefit payout in as little as one to two weeks. Delays in filing a claim or getting the right documents and information together could stretch the payment date out, even for additional weeks. But, from start to finish, the life insurance company should pay out a death claim within 60 days.

Depending on your state, your life insurance company may be required to periodically cross-reference the Social Security Administration’s death master file against the carrier’s list of policyholders to determine which of its policyholders have died. That means that if you don’t file a claim, you may still eventually receive a death benefit based on information the life insurance carrier has in its records about the policyholder’s beneficiaries.

But the process could take a long time, if the life insurance company performs this check at all, and the information it has on file for you may be outdated. The fastest way to make sure you’re owed a death benefit and that the carrier sends it to the right place is to submit a claim yourself.

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Submitting a claim

Many life insurance companies now allow you to begin the claims process online, although you should check with the policy or on the company’s website to make sure. You should be able to fill out most of the information using the website’s own form, including the deceased’s name, date of birth, policy number, and cause of death. If you can’t file the claim online, the company’s website or the policy itself should have a number for you to call.

The site should also list what supplementary documents you need to provide. Some of the most common documents the carrier will ask for are:

  • Claim form, also known as a claims packet. If you file online, the information you enter in the website should be equivalent to filling out a paper claim form. Depending on the carrier, you could also be sent a paper version of the claims form or be asked to download and print one out. The claim form will ask for information about you and the policyholder and will require your signature or e-signature if filing online. You’ll also use the claim form to state how you’d like the death benefit to be paid (as a lump sum or an annuity).

  • Death certificate. You should get multiple copies of the death certificate, just in case you need to use it more than once.

  • An obituary or newspaper article regarding the death, if available.

  • A copy of the policy.

  • Proof of your own identity.

Finding the policy of a deceased person

If you just bought a life insurance policy, for the sake of your beneficiaries you should let them know about it and also where to find it when you’re gone. It should be kept in a safe place with easy access – a beneficiary might have trouble making a legal claim for the contents of a safe-deposit box, for example – so the beneficiary can start the claims process as early as possible.

If you’re the beneficiary of a policy or think you might be, you’ll need to find a copy of the policy. The first place to look is in your deceased loved one’s records. Check any hard drives you have access to if you can’t find a physical copy of the policy.

Failing that, you could call the life insurance company directly. If you don’t even know the name of the carrier, try plugging in the policyholder’s name and information into the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Life Insurance Policy Locator Service, which pings every life insurance company that partners with the organization to search for policies that match your query. However, this could add up to 90 business days to your search.

Some policyholders get their life insurance through their employer. In that case, you need to ask the company’s benefits administrator to file the claim. That could mean asking your loved one’s union representative as well.


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Claim delays and denials

Although the life insurance company may pay your death benefit claim in as little as two weeks, there are several reasons why the claim could be delayed or even denied.

If the insured dies within two years of opening the policy, the claim falls within the contestability period, during which the insurance company will review the claim for fraud or misrepresentation. You could be asked to provide additional information about the deceased’s medical history to prove that he or she didn’t hide any conditions that could’ve caused an early death.

During the contestability period, if the deceased dies by suicide, the death benefit will not be paid. Likewise if the insured dies doing a risky activity if he or she neglected to mention the activity during the application process.

If the cause of death is homicide, the insurance company will delay paying the death benefit until an investigation clears the beneficiary of suspicion. If you did, in fact, do the deed, you can’t legally receive money anyway, so don’t try it. Your claim will be denied. Your claim could also be denied if the policyholder died doing something illegal.

As long as you have the right documentation to back up your death benefit claim, you should receive the payout eventually. But any investigation the life insurance carrier undertakes the prove your claim could tack on at least another six to 12 months to your wait.

Policy lapses

If you didn’t pay your policy premiums on time (or at all), then your policy likely lapsed and your beneficiaries won’t be able to receive the death benefit. To prevent this from happening, you should ensure to pay your life insurance premiums within the 30 day grace period offered by insurers. If a circumstance arises where you cannot pay your premiums within the grace period, you have two options:

  • Lower your coverage amount to lower the cost of your premiums

  • Discuss alternate options with your insurer if you cannot pay your premiums due to an extenuating circumstance

For special cases, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, life insurance companies offer extended grace periods for premium payments of up to 90 days. To get an extension on your premium payments, you’ll need to get in touch with your insurer and disclose how you’re currently impacted financially by the pandemic.

If you’re granted an extension on premium payments, make sure to discuss the specifics with your insurer. How are they expecting repayment? Will it all be upfront or will they instate a payment plan over the course of a year? These details are important to ensure that even if with an extended grace period, you’re making your payments in a timely manner and don’t risk losing your life insurance coverage.

Managing Editor

Zack Sigel

Managing Editor

Zack Sigel is a SEO managing editor at Policygenius. He covers personal finance, comprising mortgages, investing, deposit accounts, and more. His previous work included writing about film and music.

Life Insurance Expert

Nupur Gambhir

Life Insurance Expert

Nupur Gambhir is a life insurance editor at Policygenius in New York City. She has researched and written extensively about life insurance since 2019, with specialties in life insurance companies, policy types, and end-of-life planning. Her writing on insurance and finance has appeared on MSN, The Financial Gym, and end-of-life planning service Cake. Previously, she worked in marketing and business development for travel and tech.

Nupur has a B.A. in Economics from Ohio State University.