If you’re not sure if someone had life insurance when they died, their financial or legal advisor — or a life insurance policy locator — can help you determine if they had life insurance coverage.
When the owner of a life insurance policy dies, their beneficiary can claim a death benefit from the insurance company. If you’re a beneficiary, the sooner you file a claim, the sooner you’ll receive death benefit funds.
If the policy owner didn’t provide you with any records, their financial or legal advisor may have the policy documents you’ll need to file a claim. You can also use life insurance policy locator tools to find the details you need.
In an ideal world, every person who has life insurance would keep clearly organized records and communicate openly with loved ones about their plans and wishes.
In real life, you might not know where your loved one kept their policy information. They may not even have mentioned a policy at all, or who’s named as a beneficiary.
Here’s a simple, step-by-step approach to find if a life insurance policy exists and what to do when you find it.
5 steps to find a life insurance policy
Organizing a loved one’s documents after their death can be a daunting task. There’s no time limit to claim a death benefit on a policy, so there’s no pressure to find it within a certain period.
Still, you may have expenses you’d like the life insurance benefit to cover, so it’s better to locate the policy as soon as possible. Here’s how to find a life insurance policy, whether your loved one kept documents handy or not.
1. Search for a physical copy of the policy
Ideally, you want to find the policy document, because it will have all the information you need to file a life insurance claim. As you go through your loved one’s personal documents, look out for paperwork with the following information:
Name and contact information of the insurer
Name of beneficiary or beneficiaries
Death benefit amount
There may be specific instructions for filing a claim. If not, having the policy information in hand will enable you to contact the insurer and ask how to claim a benefit.
Keep in mind that term life insurance policies can last as long as 30 years, and whole life insurance policies last the entire lifetime of the insured. You may have to check files that are several years old to find policy information.
If the policyholder has stored the document in a safe deposit box at their bank, you may need to get a court order to prove that they have died and that you’re allowed to access the box’s contents. The executor of the deceased’s estate should also be able to access the safe deposit box.
2. Search digital storage for policy information
If you shared any digital storage with the deceased — or they had an external hard drive — you might be able to find the policy saved there.
Unfortunately, if the policy is on a device in an account that’s password-protected or encrypted, it will be hard to retrieve. You may be able to gain access by presenting the company that owns the account with a court order, but it might not honor your request.
If you’re allowed to handle your deceased loved one’s property and access their records, try to locate any password information that could give you login credentials for financial and other digital accounts.
3. Contact the deceased person’s financial advisors
Anyone who provided advising or other services to plan and manage the person’s estate may have records of their life insurance purchases. Reach out to the accountant, attorney, financial planner, or banker — or to a business partner — who worked with your loved one. They might have information about any life insurance policies the deceased owned.
If your loved one purchased home insurance or auto insurance through an insurance agent, the agent may know whether they had other insurance policies.
4. Use life insurance search tools
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and some state insurance departments offer free tools to help people search for unclaimed life insurance policies.
If you’re not sure whether a life insurance policy exists for the person who passed away, start by checking the the following resources:
Life Insurance Policy Locator Service: This search tool finds a life insurance policy with information such as your address, relationship to the deceased, and the deceased’s Social Security number, then asks insurers nationwide to search their records for matching policies.
MissingMoney.com: This site, endorsed by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), aggregates state records of unclaimed funds.
NAUPA: NAUPA’s own search tool allows you to search for unclaimed money by state.
Some states let you search for a policy through their Department of Insurance (DOI) site. Click the relevant link below to see what’s available in the state where the deceased person lived:
It may take some time to hear back — NAIC notes that it could take up to 90 business days for insurers to respond to a request. If there’s a match, the company will contact you directly if you’re the beneficiary or are legally authorized to get the information.
If the policy has another beneficiary, the insurance company could reach out to that beneficiary instead. An insurance company might ask for a notarized death certificate and other documentation that shows you’re the right person to receive information about the deceased person. 
5. Contact the life insurance company
If you know which life insurance company issued the policy, contact it directly.
If you already have the document and know that you’re a listed beneficiary, be prepared to verify your identity (usually with ID, such as your driver’s license number or SSN).
You’ll also need to provide the death certificate to prove that the insured person is deceased.
Other ways to search for a life insurance policy
If you’re unsure whether your loved one had an existing life insurance policy, there are a few places you can look for confirmation:
Bank records: It’s likely the deceased was still paying for their policy before they died, in which case you might find withdrawals for premiums in their financial statements.
Employer: If the deceased was employed when they died, they might have had subsidized group life insurance. Their former employer should be able to help.
Financial advisor or lawyer: Your loved one may have met with a professional to create a will or make other end-of-life plans. They should be aware of any existing coverage.
Member organizations: If your loved one was part of a union, veterans group, or other organization, they may have gotten life insurance through the organization.
Even if you’re not sure whether or not your loved one had a policy, you can still use the life insurance policy search options above to check.
How to find out if you’re a life insurance beneficiary
It’s not uncommon for people to have no idea they’re the beneficiary of someone’s life insurance policy. Policies can last for decades, and beneficiary designations can change over the course of someone’s life.
If someone died and you’re unsure if they had life insurance coverage or who their beneficiaries were, it’s worth searching for their policy to ensure you’re not leaving a benefit unclaimed.
The death master file
In rare cases, the insurance company may reach out to let you know you’re a beneficiary. Many insurers 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.
If an insurer finds a policy that’s unclaimed, it will mail claim forms to any beneficiaries. However, it can take a long time for insurers to complete this process, so it’s always better to initiate a claim yourself.
Looking for a lost life insurance policy while grieving a loved one can be difficult. An online policy locator or getting help from the deceased’s financial advisors can make the process easier.