When the owner of a life insurance policy dies, their beneficiaries get a death benefit from the insurance company. If you’re the beneficiary of a policy, you should file a claim with the insurer as soon as possible in order to collect the benefit.
But if the insured dies before telling you where to find a copy of their policy (or that a policy exists), you may not have all the information you need to file a claim. Whether you’re facing the death of a spouse, parent, business partner, or sibling, it can be daunting to know where to start. Here’s how to find out if someone had a life insurance policy.
You can try to get help finding policy information from the deceased’s insurer or financial and legal advisors.
Online tools, such as NAIC’s Life Insurance Policy Locator Service, can help you track down a missing policy.
The deceased’s employer can help you with next steps if the life insurance was part of an employer-sponsored group policy.
How to find a lost life insurance policy
It can take some digging, but the policy document will have all the information you need to file a life insurance claim, including:
Name and contact information of the insurer
Name of beneficiary or beneficiaries
Death benefit amount
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.
Contact the life insurance company
If you know which life insurance company issued the policy, contact it directly. Be prepared to prove that you are the beneficiary listed (usually with ID such as your driver’s license number or SSN) and have the death certificate available to prove that the insured person is deceased.
Use life insurance search tools
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and some state insurance departments offer free tools to help anyone search for unclaimed life insurance policies.
Department of Insurance (DOI): Some states let you search for a policy through their DOI site. They also list department contact information if you want to talk to someone directly.
Life Insurance Policy Locator Service: This search tool finds a life insurance policy with information like 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.
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 — you’ll be contacted directly if you are a beneficiary or otherwise authorized to get information about the missing policy. 
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 partner — might be able to track down their insurance policy or at least tell you which company they purchased the policy from.
If the deceased purchased home insurance or auto insurance through an insurance agent, the agent may know whether they had other insurance policies.
Search for a physical copy
If you’re allowed to access the deceased’s personal effects, check secure safes and common storage areas for a copy of the policy or correspondence from their insurance company.
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’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 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 might be able to get access by presenting the company that owns the account with a court order, but they might reject your request.
Other ways to search for a life insurance policy
If you’re unsure whether your loved one had an existing life insurance policy at all, there are a few places you can look for confirmation:
Banking 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 able to verify whether your loved one had a policy, you can still use the life insurance policy search options above.
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 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 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.
→ Learn more about how life insurance works
Frequently asked questions
How do I find out if a life insurance policy exists?
You can find out if someone had a policy by using online search tools, contacting their financial or legal advisors, or checking the deceased’s records.
Are life insurance policies public record?
Life insurance policies are not usually public record, but they can be found on sites that aggregate records of unclaimed money in each state.
Who can claim a lost life insurance policy?
Only beneficiaries can claim the death benefit of a life insurance policy. If no beneficiaries are living, the proceeds go through probate.
Do life insurance companies contact beneficiaries after a death?
A policyholder’s insurer may eventually reach out if you’re named on an unclaimed policy, but it’s much faster if you file a claim yourself.