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Updated July 20, 2020|7 min read
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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.
That’s why you 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 you where to find a copy of their policy, you may not have all the information you need to file a claim. That means that their death benefit could join billions of dollars in unclaimed life insurance funds. Here’s how to find the life insurance policy of a deceased person.
To collect the death benefit you usually need a copy of the policy and the deceased’s death certificate
If you don’t have the policy and don’t know which insurance company issued it, search the deceased person’s home, mail, and belongings to find it
Online tools, such as the Life Insurance Policy Locator Service, can also help you track down a missing policy
Contact the deceased’s employer if their life insurance was part of an employer-sponsored group policy
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 confirm the policyholder’s passing, like the cause and date of death.
It’s not uncommon for people to have no idea they’re the beneficiary of someone’s life insurance policy. Policy terms are lengthy, and beneficiary designations can change over the course of someone’s life. If a loved one died and you’re unsure who their beneficiaries were or if they even had a life insurance policy, it’s worth doing a thorough search to ensure you’re not leaving a policy unclaimed.
If you’re lucky, the insurance company will let you know you’re a beneficiary themselves. Many insurers now regularly compare their records against the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File, which records deaths of social security number holders that are reported to the SSA by funeral homes or loved ones. More than half of U.S. states require companies to use the Death Master File to identify lost policies. If an insurer finds a policy that’s gone unclaimed, they’ll find addresses for any beneficiaries and mail them claim forms. It can take some time for insurers to complete this process, so it’s still best to conduct your own research in the meantime.
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 they may not be aware of the policyholder’s death.
It can take some digging, but the policy document will have all the information you need to file a claim, including the policy number, the name of the beneficiary or beneficiaries, the death benefit amount, and the contact information for the life insurance company. If you know you’re the beneficiary of a life insurance policy but don’t have a copy of it, there are a few ways to find a lost policy.
If you know which life insurance carrier issued the policy, contact the company directly. The insurer 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.
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.
Search all the deceased’s belongings, including secure safes and common storage areas in the person’s home, such as basements or attics. 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 can 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 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.
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.
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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What 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? The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and some state insurance departments have tools that can help you find out more.
NAIC’s Life Insurance Policy Locator Service helps people track down lost or missing insurance policies.
The NAIC lookup tool asks for basic information like your address and relationship to the deceased and the deceased’s last known address and social security number. The NAIC works with many insurance companies across the country and 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.
If you know your loved one had a life insurance policy, look through their secondary documents. Check their bank statements, which could show monthly or annual premium payments that reference the insurance company by name. 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.
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 find any lost money you’re owed. Sites like Unclaimed.org or MissingMoney.com, which aggregate unclaimed property listings from across the country, can further simplify your search.
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.
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