According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, tens of millions of dollars of life insurance benefits go unclaimed each year. If a loved one has passed away, you can take steps to find life insurance policy details and claim any benefits you may be owed.
A life insurance policy ensures that loved ones are cared for financially when the policyholder dies and that final expenses are met. The death benefit gives family members peace of mind during trying times. Sometimes, a life insurance policy can't pay out because the insurer can't locate the beneficiary.
When beneficiaries can't be located after a specified period, the policy's cash value is surrendered to the state where the policy was executed. This article examines how to find out if a state is holding unclaimed property you're entitled to.
Why do life insurance policies go unclaimed?
Life insurance policies don't automatically pay the beneficiary upon the death of an insured. The insurance company must be notified of the death, which may not happen if family members or the beneficiaries didn't know a policy existed. A lapse in premium payments could trigger an inquiry, resulting in the insurance company learning of the insured's death, but in some instances, the policy becomes unclaimed property.
Under the Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits Act, insurance companies in over 30 states must check the Social Security Administration’s Death Master file at least semi-annually. The file contains all reported U.S. deaths with the last-known address. The company has 90 days to contact the policy’s beneficiaries if a match is found. Many states have their own laws regarding unclaimed insurance policies.
Policies remain unclaimed for several reasons:
- The insured may not have made the beneficiary aware of the policy.
- The beneficiary may have simply forgotten to file the claim during a time of distress.
- The insured and beneficiary may have become estranged, and the beneficiary was never changed.
- The beneficiary could have died before the insured, and the beneficiary information wasn't updated.
A beneficiary or estate is entitled to receive the benefit for whatever reason.
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How to find out if someone has life insurance
Family members of the deceased may not have been aware of a policy's existence. To learn if you might be the beneficiary of an unclaimed life insurance policy, some things you can do include:
- Contact the decedent's last known employer. Some employers provide a life insurance policy to their employees or offer the opportunity to purchase a group life policy. If the decedent was employed at the time of death, the employer will contact the beneficiary in most instances. If the decedent wasn't employed, the last known employer might have a policy for the former employee.
- Do a thorough search. Check all available paperwork and places where one would safely keep important documents. Check bank statements for premiums paid and insurance companies' or agents' phone contact information.
- Contact the mortgage holder. Sometimes, life insurance is bundled with other insurance policies, such as mortgage insurance. If there's a mortgage on property owned by the decedent, contact the mortgage company.
- Contact the insurance company. If you know the insurance company or agent, you can contact them to report the death. They will tell you if you're the beneficiary.
- Contact the estate attorney. If there is an estate attorney, the beneficiary will be notified.
Ask other family members. Sometimes, a policyholder might tell a family member other than the beneficiary or inform a contingent beneficiary.
How to find life insurance policies online
There are several ways to conduct an online life insurance policy search by name free of charge. For these online life insurance policy locators, you need specific documents and information available to prove your identity and proof of the insured's death. This can be done by providing a certified copy of the death certificate. You should be prepared to give the following information:
The deceased individual's:
- Full legal name
- Date of birth
- Social Security number
- Date of death
- Copy of the death certificate
- Full legal name
- Date of birth
- Social Security number
- Copy of a government-issued ID
- Proof of current residency
Tools and resources
You can do a free life insurance policy search online using the following resources:
- The National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Life Insurance Policy Locator Service (NAIC). For this service, you must request a search, and NAIC will contact participating life insurance companies for you.
- The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA). This service helps find unclaimed property in each state, including life insurance policies.
- Life insurance company websites. Some major life insurance providers have online policy locators.
- State resources. Every state has a database of unclaimed funds. Your state comptroller's office can guide you on the procedure to claim any funds you're owed.
- Check newspapers and state websites. Many states must publish public notices of unclaimed funds in the media. They may list names and last known addresses or an online link to their database.
Another option, the MIB Policy Locator Service, may be helpful but inaccessible to some. This national database contains information on all U.S. and Canadian life insurance applications made after 1996. Estate executors can use it, or if no one oversees the estate, the deceased’s next of kin can submit a notarized application and a $75 money order or certified check.
Beware of Scams! When a loved one dies, you may receive calls and letters from companies claiming to search for unclaimed insurance policies, bank accounts, and other funds. These asset locators often guarantee success and charge an exorbitant fee to use their service, although the total cost isn't stated upfront. Many want a nonrefundable "upfront" payment. Never sign a contract with these companies, as they are simply performing the same searches that you can do yourself at no cost.
Many asset location services operate illegally, so avoidance is paramount to receiving all the funds you're entitled to. It's also vital that you don't rush into anything. If the decedent named you as a beneficiary, the insurance company will make every effort to contact you before submitting the funds to the state.
How to file a life insurance claim
When it's been established that you're the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, you can file a claim with the company holding the policy.
You must provide a certified copy of the death certificate and other identification, such as a driver's license, and proof of residency, and some companies will want to see a copy of your birth certificate.
When filing a claim with the state, you'll need to provide, a certified death certificate and other identifying information for the decedent, as well as your identification. Your state may also want a certified copy of your birth certificate.
Keep your life policies updated
Life insurance is a valuable asset to help care for your loved ones after you're gone. However, if your beneficiaries cannot locate your policy, the funds will be placed with the state. Keep your policy updated with beneficiary contact information in a safe place where it can be accessed when needed.
Do insurance companies automatically know if an insured has died?
No. Unless someone contacts the insurance company to let them know an insured has passed, the insurance company will not be automatically notified. Insurance companies often check the Social Security Administration's "Death Master File" at least twice a year, which can help them eventually find some of their insureds who have died.
What happens to unclaimed life insurance payouts?
Unclaimed life insurance must be turned over to the state where the policy was issued. From there, anyone can check the state's database to see if they're named as a beneficiary.
Can I do life a insurance policy search by social security number?
Life insurance policies are indexed by name and are not searchable by social security. The deceased's name with identifying information (including social security number) and a copy of the death certificate are needed to search for a policy.
Life insurance companies sometimes have difficulty finding the listed beneficiaries after an insured has passed.
Several online resources can help locate your loved ones' life insurance policies.
Updating beneficiary information ensures your policy benefits will pay out per your wishes.
When you name a beneficiary, inform them where your policy is kept and provide them with your insurer's contact information.
- National Conference of Insurance Legislator. Model Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits Act.
- Social Security Administration. Social Security Death Master File (DMF).
- National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. Missing Money.
- MIB. Lost Life Insurance.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FastStats: Deaths and Mortality.
- NAIC. Learn How to Use the NAIC Policy Locator.