Updated March 24, 2021|3 min read
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If you have an active life insurance policy, the life insurance company will pay a death benefit to your beneficiaries when you die. This payout protects your family from the financial burden of losing your income.
According to 2021 Policygenius data, it can take between two weeks and two months to receive life insurance money from a provider. However, multiple factors impact the time it takes from filing a claim to receiving the death benefit, including when and how the deceased died and each insurance company’s procedures.
Life insurance providers pay out within 60 days of receiving a death claim filing in most cases
Beneficiaries must file a death claim and verify their identity before receiving payment
The benefit could be delayed or denied due to policy lapses, fraud, or certain causes of death
The time it takes to receive the death benefit varies on an individual basis, but most people can expect to receive their payment in under 60 days. How quickly you receive the life insurance money depends on:
When you file your claim
Documents required for your claim
How long the policy was in force
The cause of death
State laws governing insurance payouts
Some states require life insurance companies to periodically check their list of policyholders against the Social Security Administration’s death records to keep death benefits from going unclaimed. That means some people might receive a payout without initiating a death claim.
However, the best way to ensure you receive a payout quickly is to file a claim yourself. Many life insurance companies let you file a claim online, and will ask you for documentation in order to prove the claim and your identity.
As long as you have paperwork on hand to verify the policyholder’s death and your status as a beneficiary, you shouldn’t have issues filing a claim. However, some claims might be delayed or—in very rare cases—denied due to:
Cause of death: If a policyholder dies doing something not covered by their policy, like skydiving, you will not receive a death benefit.
Fraud: If the policyholder lied on their insurance application or there are questionable circumstances around their death, the provider will investigate and may decrease or deny the payout.
Missing policy paperwork: You’ll likely need a copy of the deceased’s policy to file a claim. If you don’t know where to find it or other required documents, it will slow the claims process.
Policy lapse: If the deceased stopped paying their premiums and let their policy lapse, you won’t get any death benefit because their coverage is no longer active.
The contestability period: A death in the first two years of a policy falls under contestability, during which the insurer can review an insurance application for fraud. This might delay a payout, but as long as the deceased was honest, you’ll receive the full death benefit.
The provider will eventually process your claim as long as an investigation finds no wrongdoing. Depending on the complexity of the issue causing a delay, it could take longer than 60 days to receive your payout.
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You can submit a claim either on a life insurance company’s website or by calling the company directly. The provider will let you know what documentation you need to provide in addition to the deceased’s name, date of birth, policy number, and cause of death.
Some of the most common documents providers ask for are:
Claim form, also known as a claims packet or request for benefits
Copy of the policy
Obituary or newspaper article regarding the death
Proof of your identity, such as a government-issued ID
Depending on the provider, these forms and documents may be submitted online or by mail. The request for benefits form is usually where you’ll choose how you want the benefit paid out as well.
Sometimes policyholders forget to tell their loved ones that they’re the beneficiary of a life insurance policy or let them know where to find the policy documents. If you’re the beneficiary of a policy or think you might be but can’t find the paperwork, try:
Calling the insurance provider, if you know the company name
Contacting the deceased’s financial or estate planning advisors
Contacting their employer if they had a group insurance policy
Looking through the deceased’s physical and digital storage
Using the Life Insurance Policy Locator Service
Always let your beneficiaries know about your own life insurance policy and where to find it so they can start a claim as early as possible.
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Beneficiaries of life insurance proceeds get to choose how they receive the money. You may have the option to either receive a mailed check or electronic transfer of the funds and how much money you get at once. For the latter there are usually a few options:
Lump sum: This is the most common payout method because it helps family and loved ones cover expenses left behind by the policyholder immediately. Lump-sum payments are tax-free.
Annuity: An annuity allows you to receive the death benefit in annual installments for a set period and is an option if you don’t have immediate financial needs. The unpaid funds earn interest at a fixed rate, which is taxable.
Retained asset account: A less common option in which the insurer holds the insurance money in an interest-bearing account and you can make withdrawals by check. Any earned interest is taxable.
You’ll likely get the most value from opting for a lump-sum payout, which avoids tax complications and gives you the most flexibility with your money. There are no restrictions on spending the death benefit, so you can apply it to your financial needs right away.
Managing someone’s end-of-life affairs can be complex, but knowing what to expect can ease the process of filing a life insurance claim. With the correct documents and open communication with the policyholder, you can receive the financial support they secured for you within 60 days.
Some companies pay death benefits automatically, but might take months to find and process those payments. The best way to ensure prompt payment is to file a claim yourself.
After you file a claim, providers usually pay out within 14-60 days. Errors or investigations can extend the timeline.
There is no time limit for filing a life insurance claim.
Life insurance terminology doesn't have to be confusing. Here are definitions of the most common terms and phrases you'll find in a policy.
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