How to find the life insurance policy of a deceased person

If the owner of a life insurance policy dies before telling the beneficiary where his or her policy is, the beneficiary will need to find the policy in order to claim the benefit. Here's how.

Jennifer Pan

Jennifer Pan

Published December 17, 2019

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • To collect the death benefit of a life insurance policy, beneficiaries usually need a copy of the policy and a death certificate for the deceased

  • If you don’t have the policy and don’t know which insurance company issued it, be prepared to search the deceased person’s home, mail, and personal belongings to find the policy or the company that issued it

  • Online tools, such as the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Life Insurance Policy Locator Service, can also help you track down a lost or missing policy

  • You’ll have to contact the deceased person’s employer if their life insurance was part of an employer-sponsored group policy

When the owner of a life insurance policy dies, his or her beneficiaries are paid a death benefit by the insurance carrier. however, carriers aren’t always notified when a policyholder has died, and in many cases, the beneficiary will know about the policyholder’s death before the insurance company.

For that reason, the beneficiary of a policy should file a claim with the insurance carrier as soon as possible in order to collect the death benefit.

But if the policyholder dies before telling the beneficiary where to find a copy of his or her policy, the beneficiary may not have all the information they need to file a claim. That means that their death benefit could join the billions of dollars in life insurance benefits that have gone unclaimed. Here’s what you need to do to find the life insurance policy of a deceased person.

In this article:

Getting the death certificate

Even before you file a claim for the death benefit with the insurance carrier, you’ll need proof that the policyholder has died. A death certificate can be obtained from the local government of the county in which the policyholder died, or from the mortuary that managed the funeral. The death certificate will contain all the information the insurance company needs to prove the policyholder has died, like the date of decease and the cause of death.

How to find a copy of the policy

When the owner of a life insurance policy dies, it frequently falls on the beneficiary to file a claim for the death benefit. Insurance companies are legally required to contact the beneficiaries of a policy when they know that a policyholder has died, but in many cases, they may not be aware of the policyholder’s death.

If you know you’re the beneficiary of a life insurance policy but don’t have a copy of the policy on hand, here’s what you can do:

Contact the life insurance company

If you know which life insurance carrier issued the policy, you can directly contact that company. The insurance company should have the policy on file. Be prepared to prove that you are the beneficiary listed (usually with an ID or Social Security number) and that the insured person is deceased.

Contact the deceased’s financial advisors

Anyone who advised the deceased on financial matters or helped them manage their estate — such as an accountant, attorney, financial planner, banker, or business partners — might be able to help track down their insurance policy, or at least tell you which carrier they purchased the policy from.

Similarly, if the deceased person purchased home insurance or auto insurance through an insurance agent, it’s worth contacting that agent, who might have also sold them a life insurance policy.

Search for the physical copy of the policy

You may have to do some serious digging to find a life insurance policy in a deceased person’s belongings, but obtaining a physical copy of the policy is usually the most straightforward way to access the death benefit. This document will have all the information you need, including the policy number, the name of the beneficiary or beneficiaries, the death benefit amount, and the contact information for the life insurance company.

Search all the deceased’s belongings, including secure safes and common storage areas in the person’s home, such as basements or attics. Open every drawer, cabinet, and storage bin. Check expandable files, bookcases, and binders. Check the deceased person’s mail to see if you can find any correspondence from their insurance carrier, like bills or statements.

Keep in mind that term life insurance policies frequently last as long as 30 years, and whole life insurance policies can last the entire lifetime of the insured, so it’s very likely that during that time the physical document has been moved or been buried by other records and household items.

If the policyholder has stored the document in a bank safe deposit box, you’ll need to get a court order to prove that they have died and that you’re allowed to access the safe deposit box’s contents. The executor of the deceased’s estate should also be able to access the safe deposit box.

Search digital storage

If you have access to the deceased person’s computer or phone, you might be able to find the policy stored on the device’s hard drive, in their email, or in a cloud storage service like Dropbox.

Unfortunately, if the policy is on a drive or server that’s password-protected or encrypted, you’ll probably have a hard time getting to it. As with a safe deposit box, you might be able to get access by presenting the company that owns the server with a court order, but even in this case they might reject your request.

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How to find out which insurance company issued the policy

What do you do if you know you’re the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, but you have no idea where the policy is or even which insurance company issued it? There are a few resources out there that can help you track down their insurer:

Life Insurance Policy Locator Service

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Life Insurance Policy Locator Service helps people track down lost or missing insurance policies.

The NAIC, which works with many insurance companies across the country, will ask participating insurers to look for policies in the name of the deceased or the beneficiary. Although it could take up to 90 business days to hear back, the insurance company will contact you directly if you’re the beneficiary, the executor of the deceased’s estate, or a legal representative authorized to receive the information in the policy.

Secondary documents

If you know your loved one had a life insurance policy, another way to find out which company issued the policy is to look through secondary documents. Check the deceased’s bank statements, which could show when monthly or annual payments to an insurance company were withdrawn. Other records like a checkbook register or canceled checks could also help you find the name of the insurance company.

If the insurer had a life insurance policy with a cash value component, such as whole life insurance, you can also check his or her tax returns for evidence of any interest earned on the policy or dividends paid out by the insurance company.

Other online resources

You can also check your state’s Department of Insurance (DOI) website. Some DOI websites let you plug in the deceased’s information directly to search for a policy, but they will also list the contact information for the department in case you want to talk to someone directly.

Additionally, check the website of your state’s unclaimed property office. You’ll find resources there to look up any funds you’re owed. Sites like Unclaimed.org or MissingMoney.com, which aggregate unclaimed property listings from across the country, can further help you simplify your search.

How to find a group life insurance policy

Many employers offer term life insurance as part of their benefits package, which is called group life insurance. If the deceased person’s life insurance coverage came from an employer-sponsored group policy, you’ll need to contact their employer to claim the death benefit.

Similarly, if the deceased was part of a union that offers group life insurance to its members, you should contact his or her union representative to find out how to file a claim. Though the employer or the union may contact you first in these cases, it doesn’t hurt to speed up the process if you haven’t heard from them.

Note that a group life insurance policy is only valid as long as the insured person stays with their employer. The policy won’t follow that person to his or her next job, so if your loved one dies while they were between jobs and didn’t have an individual life insurance policy, he or she won’t have coverage.

Learn more about life insurance death benefits.