A Forgotten Beneficiary.
Do you think you may have been listed as a beneficiary on a life insurance policy but never told?
A beneficiary is the person who will receive the life insurance money (death benefit) after their loved one dies. It might sound unusual that someone would buy life insurance and never tell the person they wanted to have the money, but it does happen.
If this happens to you, your loved one may have thought the topic was too morbid to talk about. Or maybe they didn’t want to worry you. Maybe they wanted the life insurance to be a surprise gift. Or maybe they just forgot. As strange as that seems, it’s not unheard of.
If you think you might be a beneficiary of a life insurance policy, you should take steps to find out.
Many insurance policies go unclaimed after the person who bought the life insurance dies. The fact is, the insurance companies might not even know their insured client has died unless a life insurance claim is made. If a beneficiary doesn’t know that a life insurance policy exists or which insurance company carries the policy, the life insurance money will go unclaimed.
If you strongly believe you have a claim as a beneficiary but have not located your loved one’s policy, don’t give up without exhausting all your search options.
Before you start
Make sure you have a copy of the certified death certificate. Have all the important information in one place, such as your loved one’s legal name, their social security number, date of birth and more.
Understand that insurance companies should not charge you to find out if you are a beneficiary. There are separate locator services you can use, and they do charge a fee, but the insurance companies will not charge you.
And don’t worry. The life insurance company will still pay out the death benefit long after your loved one has passed away. As long as payments were still being made (the policy was still in-force) while your loved one was alive, there should be no payment issues. There is no ‘claim-by’ date, but you should figure out if you are a beneficiary sooner rather later. If you wait too long, the insurance company may be purchased by another one or the documents may be archived (digital or paper). In those cases, you will still receive the death benefit if you are the beneficiary, it just might take longer.
How to Search for a Life Insurance Policy
Look through their paperwork and mail.
If possible, sort through the papers and mail of the deceased. Look for anything related to life insurance or insurance companies in general. Find filing cabinets, bankers boxes, and even just stacks of loose papers. Some people will also store paperwork in places like under their bed, the back of their closet or in desk drawers. Also, continue to check new mail received. Sometimes the insurance company will send an annual statement that has not arrived yet.
Check their bank records, tax records and checkbooks.
If you can’t locate anything in the paperwork you have searched through, look through their bank records and checkbooks to search for payments to insurance companies. During their life, your loved one will have made monthly payments on their life insurance policy. Cancelled checks and bank statements may help.
Go through their address book.
Look for a paper or digital address book. Maybe there is an entry for an insurance company, insurance agent, lawyer or other type of financial planner. Those are all good starting points. Start making calls and asking questions.
Find out of they had a safety deposit box.
Don’t forget to check safety deposit boxes, which are a likely place someone would store insurance policy information.
Ask family members.
Maybe your loved one mentioned the policy to a relative or friend. This might happen if the life insurance was meant as a surprise for you or if they didn’t want you to worry. They might share the surprise with or confide in someone close.
Contact their car or home insurance agent.
Sometimes people buy life insurance from the same company as their car or home insurance.
Contact the insurance companies directly.
If you don’t have access to your loved one’s paperwork, you can contact life insurance companies directly to make inquiries.
Contact the company they worked for.
Contact the employee benefits office at their previous place of employment. If the company doesn’t have this type of office, simply contact their HR department to find out about company benefits packages that may have included a life insurance policy. Many companies provide their employees with life insurance.
Try the state’s unclaimed property office.
If it’s been a year or longer since your loved one died, try contacting the state’s unclaimed property office to see if your loved one’s insurance company turned over the inheritance to the state. This is often the same as the State Controller’s Office (see below).
Check with the State Controller’s Office.
The State Controller’s Office will be different for each state. Do a search for the ‘state name‘ and ‘State Controller’s Office.’ For example: California State Controller’s Office. You will then be directed to the California State Controller office website where you can search for unclaimed property and more. This will search will work with most states in the United States.
Check with the State Insurance Department.
Again, this is going to be different for each state. You can do a direct search for you state here: National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
Contact your own life insurance company.
They can often provide you with more tips to learn if you are a beneficiary, even if your loved one’s insurance policy is with a different insurance company.
A Last Resort: Use the new NAIC Policy Locator.
This is a brand new life insurance policy locator service provided by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
The NAIC Policy Locator
The new, NAIC Policy Locator service is free of charge. If you have tried everything possible within reason, the NAIC Policy Locator is the place to turn. When you use this service, NAIC will reach out to “participating companies” to do a record search for your loved one. If a company has a policy they think matches your request, they will contact you directly.
You found a policy, now what?
Each insurance company has a different process to file an insurance claim, so follow their instructions on how to fill out their forms and the documentation they need. They will walk you through the process.
Your own policy
Do you have life insurance, mortgage protection life insurance or final expense insurance? Who are your beneficiaries? Make sure you verbally tell them, and make sure they know where they can find your insurance paperwork. You do not need to give them your entire insurance application since it will contain your personal information. Instead, your insurance company will provide them with specific paperwork that will be enough for them to file a claim and collect the death benefit (life insurance money). This paperwork is called a Policy Summary Statement or sometimes a Certificate of Insurance.
Asurea offers Life Insurance, Mortgage Protection Life Insurance, Medicare Supplement Insurance, Final Expense Insurance, Disability Insurance, Long-term Care Insurance, Retirement Planning products and more. For additional information, click on the ‘Learn more’ button below. Want to have articles just like this delivered to your inbox? Just enter your email address in the box below and click ‘Subscribe.’
This information is provided for general consumer educational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax or investment advice. Dollar amounts are for illustrative purposes, not actual.
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