What if your dad named you as a beneficiary of his life insurance policy but did not give you the details before he died?
It is not an uncommon problem for many people. Regulators revealed that an estimated $3 billion in benefits have gone unclaimed from lost or forgotten life insurance policies. Whether it’s just $2,000 or $50,000, you can take steps to locate a lost life insurance policy.
In fact, recent changes in the insurance industry may make the search much easier.
In recent years, many states have started investigations into the insurance companies’ lack of effort to locate policy beneficiaries. Now, the big insurance companies are taking greater steps to locate beneficiaries. State regulators found that life insurers were checking the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Death Master File, an up-to-date list of recent deaths.
They use it to stop annuity payments once a contract holder dies but they do not check whether benefits were due to the deceased persons’ beneficiaries. Audits revealed that companies would draw down the cash values of forgotten policies to pay for the insurance premiums. The bad thing was, they did this even after the insured people have died.
Locating A Lost Life Insurance Policy
Unfortunately, there isn’t a national database that holds specific information for these policies. Under a compromise agreement with different states, several insurers agreed to use Death Master and other databases to look for life insurance policyholders. They also agreed to make a concerted effort to locate the named beneficiaries. Investigations are still on-going. In 2013, California State Controller John Chiang reported that 18 insurers have made numerous settlements. They released some $2.4 billion to beneficiaries across the United States.
If you think you are a ‘lost’ beneficiary, you don’t have to wait for a life insurance company to look for you. All you need to know is the name of the insurance company that issued the policy. You can already start to make a claim; you don’t even have to know the policy number.
There are several strategies plus some new resources that can help you with your search. Here are several of them:
1. Search Personal Records
Search among files, safe deposit boxes, cabinets and other areas where your loved ones might have kept important documents and insurance policies. If you can’t find the policy, try to find the name of the life insurance company that issued the policy.
For clues, go through bank and credit card statements for records of premium payments made to an insurance company. Since life insurance is used also as an investment, you can also review recent tax returns or financial statements for any withdrawals or dividends related to a life insurance policy.
Go through address books and get in touch with financial advisers or brokers who might have dealt with life insurance.
2. Check With Employers And Groups
Check with your loved one’s former employer – the employee benefits administrators might have information about any group life insurance in effect. Or maybe your loved one took out additional insurance while employed.
Fraternal organizations, worker’s unions, professional associations and other groups also get life insurance to their members.
3. Contact Insurance Companies
You can get in touch with insurance companies where your relative had other types of policies and check if he had a life insurance policy there.
Some insurers like New York Life and MetLife have installed lost-policy finders on their websites for policies they sold. The tools will just ask you to submit information about your deceased loved one. The company will then search their files for any policies on which your loved one was the insured. If the search turns out positive and you are the named beneficiary, the company will contact you.
Keep in mind:
If the search is positive but you are not the beneficiary, the company will only give you limited information. Federal and state privacy laws restrict the amount and type of information they can give out.
It may be a tedious task but you can also contact each insurance company in the state where the insured most likely bought the policy. It’s a daunting legwork because we may be talking about hundreds of companies. The state’s insurance department can provide a list of licensed insurance companies for the area.
Just look for your state insurance department’s contact information. More information means less difficulty in tracking down companies. Here is the contact information of some big companies: Prudential 1-800-556-8527; MetLife AIG 1-800-638-5433; Nationwide 1-877-669-6877 and John Hancock 1-800-732-5543.
4. Use a Free Life Insurance Locator Service
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners offers a free policy locator service program. You can access it here. Prior to this service, some states offered free locator services. These included Alabama, California, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and Vermont. This service by NAIC is the first effort to put together a national database. You may visit the American Council of Life Insurers website and look under “State Resources”.
Should the search turn up positive and you are the named beneficiary, the insurer will get in touch with you directly. If they find a policy but with a different beneficiary, the company will try to locate and contact the beneficiary.
Term Life Insurance Policies
If the policy was for a term life insurance, remember that the treatment would be slightly different. The beneficiary can collect the death benefits only if the insured person died within the term.
If your loved one died after the term has expired, the insurance company does not have to pay. Only permanent life policies, such as whole or universal life, will pay a death benefit regardless of when a person dies. This is assuming that all premiums were paid.
5. Search Unclaimed Property
If it so happened that you are searching a few years after your loved one has died, the insurer might have declared the benefits ‘unclaimed’. If that is the case, they might have remitted the benefit to the unclaimed property office of the state where the insured bought the policy.
You can to the website of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. They will search the records from 40 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Just click on the ‘Links’ button to connect to a map and addresses for unclaimed property agencies. If you want to find links to each state’s unclaimed property division, just go to www.unclaimed.org.
If your relative’s name or a potential benefactor’s name produces a hit, you’ll need to prove your claim. You would most likely have to present the death certificate and other documents detailed in the claim forms. These would vary from state to state. If you need to get a copy of the death certificate, contact the vital records office in the state where insured died. You can also go to www.vitalcheck.com.
6. Other Life Insurance Locator Services
If your loved one applied for life insurance in the last 20 years, there is an outfit that has the list of the insurers during that span of time.
MIB Solutions Inc. has a database of the records of insurance inquiries made to virtually every US and Canadian insurer since January 1, 1996. However, the company charges $75 to do a search for you. The service is limited to:
- An executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate or a surviving spouse,
- A child if there is no spouse or estate representative,
- The closest living relative in the absence of the former individuals.
Another website, www.findyourpolicy.com, will have information about the policy – but only if the insured registered his policy with the service. Registration is free but to search for it, the company charges $19.95.
You may also pay $108.50 to a company called The Lost Life Insurance Finder Expert to search for the policy. They claim that in 10 days or less, they will contact each and every insurance company’s headquarters to search for a policy.
While we’re on the subject, this is a good reminder to you to get your own insurance affairs in order. Talk to loved ones about your life insurance, and provide your beneficiaries with the names of the insurers and the policy numbers while you’re still alive.
Frequently Asked Questions On Finding Lost Life Insurance Policies
What happens to the death benefits if no one claims the money?
The insurance company will normally turn any unclaimed death benefits to the state’s unclaimed property office after some time.
How do you search to see if you are entitled to money from an unclaimed life insurance policy?
First, remember that your deceased loved one may have left behind a life insurance policy so it’s good to search. Second, there is always the possibility that while he was alive, he bought more than one insurance policy (See the different types of life insurance). The best way to know is to check on some places for clues that may tell you if the deceased had a life insurance policy and other information about them.
What if you know for sure that there is a life insurance policy but do not know which insurance company?
Go to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners for help. Contact the state’s insurance commissioner office of the state where the insured bought the policy – they can help you. Read more on how you can start the search process for the insurance company that issued the life insurance policy of your loved one.
How do you know if you’re listed as a beneficiary of the policy?
When the insured bought the policy, he could have written anybody as the beneficiary. He need not get their prior consent so you wouldn’t know unless he told you. This means that you may be a beneficiary of an insurance policy you have not even heard of. When you search using the different tools and resources, you will know if you’re the beneficiary should the search turn up positive.
What information do you need to make a claim for a life insurance policy?
If you are the beneficiary or executor of the estate or a close family member such as a spouse, domestic partner, child or grandchild, sibling, parent or grandparent, you should provide:
- proof of your identity and relationship with the deceased
- a copy of the death certificate
- the deceased person’s social security number
Depending on the situation and the terms of the policy, this may help you start the process of the claim. Each insurance company has its own guidelines and they will help you how to proceed.
What if the Life Insurance Company has changed, how do I find the right one?
If a life insurance company that held the insurance policy has changed and you no longer know who the insurer is, you can go to your state commissioner’s office. They will be able to provide you with information and records of the life insurance company’s current name. They can provide a summary if there have been mergers of insurance companies and who to contact regarding a new policy or a claim or payments.