If the holder 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.
When the holder of a life insurance policy dies, his or her beneficiaries are paid a death benefit by the insurance carrier. But the carrier doesn’t always know when the policyholder is dead, and it could take a long time to find out. For that reason, the beneficiary should file a claim with the insurer as soon as possible.
But if the insured dies before telling the beneficiary where his or her policy is, the beneficiary may not be able to find it and claim the benefit, and it 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.
Even before you claim the death benefit, you’ll need to prove that the insurer has actually 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, like the date of decease and the cause of death.
When the policyholder dies, it’s frequently the burden of the beneficiary to provide proof of death and file a claim for the death benefit. The life insurance company may contact you if you’re the beneficiary, but that could take time and it’s not guaranteed if the insurer doesn’t know the policyholder is dead. (Insurance companies are legally required to contact beneficiaries when the insured dies.)
The easiest and fastest way to claim the life insurance death benefit is to look for the physical copy of the policy in the policyholder’s records. It’ll have all the information you need: the name of the beneficiary, the number at which to contact the life insurance company, and the amount of the death benefit.
Search all the deceased’s belongings to find the policy, including secure safes and obscure corners of the attic or basement, if you have one. 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 document has moved or become covered by other records and household items.
Open every drawer and storage bin. Check any expandable files, bookcases, or binders. You may have to do some serious digging to find the policy, but don’t be ashamed to tear up the whole house looking for it.
If the policyholder has stored the document in a safe deposit box, you’ll need to get a court order to prove that the insured is dead 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’s computer or phone, you can sometimes find the policy stored on the device’s hard drive, in the insurer’s email, or in a cloud storage service like Dropbox. Many people put a password on or encrypt their devices in a way that make them impossible to unlock unless you’re literally Mr. Robot. If the policy is stored on a hard drive and nowhere else, you’ll probably be out of luck — computer companies are notoriously reticent to develop tools to unlock their hardware.
But if the policy is stored on a server somewhere, you may be able to access it by presenting the email service or cloud storage company with a court order. You can get a court order by presenting proof to the court that the account holder is, in fact, dead. The death certificate is the fastest way to do this, but even with a court order the company may reject your request.
If you know you’re the beneficiary of a life insurance policy but aren’t sure how to find the actual policy document, the first thing you should do is submit a claim through the National Association of Insurance Commissioner’s Life Insurance Policy Locator Service. You’ll need basic info about the deceased that you can get from the death certificate.
This service works with a lot of life insurance companies at once. The NAIC 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 can’t find the insurance policy on your own, but you know which company the policyholder had his or her policy through, you can simply get in contact with the life insurance company, who should have the policy on file. Be prepared to prove that you are the beneficiary as well as that the insured is deceased. However, if you only know that the policyholder was insured but not through which company, there are other ways to look up that information.
If you know your loved one had a life insurance policy, one way to find out which insurance company owns the policy is to look at secondary documents. Check the deceased’s bank statements (you may need a court order to get access), which could tell you when premiums were drawn against his or her bank account and which insurance company is making the withdrawal. If you don’t see a monthly premium charge, make sure you check all 12 statements in a year because the policy might be for annual premiums.
If the insurer had a life insurance policy with a cash-value component, you might also check his or her tax returns for evidence of any dividends paid out by the insurance company.
You can 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 should also have contact information for the department in case you want to talk to a human.
Additionally, check the website of your state’s unclaimed property office. You’ll find resources there to look up any funds you’re owed. A site like MissingMoney.com, which aggregates the unclaimed property listings from across the country, can help you simplify your search.
Increasingly, your employer may offer you term life insurance as part of your benefits package, which is called group life insurance. The employer will hold the policy, and your beneficiaries will have to reach out to the company’s benefits administrator to make the claim if the employer doesn’t reach out directly.
Note that a group life insurance policy is only valid as long as the insurer stays with his employer. The policy won’t follow the insured person to his or her next job, so if your loved one dies between jobs and only had group life insurance, he or she won’t have coverage.
If the deceased was part of a union that offers group life insurance to its members, you’ll have to contact his or her union representative to get the policy. As with employer-sponsored group life insurance, the union should contact you directly, but it doesn’t hurt to speed up the process.