Life insurance documentation sometimes gets misplaced or goes unnoticed after a loved one passes away. Every year, millions of dollars in life insurance proceeds are unclaimed—simply because the beneficiaries don't know about the policies.
Don't miss out on insurance money to which you're entitled. Learn what happens to all that money and how you can search for an unclaimed life insurance policy.
After an insurance company learns of a policyholder's death, the law requires the company to try to find the beneficiaries of the policy. But in cases where the company can't locate beneficiaries in a certain period of time, every state requires the company to turn over the unclaimed life insurance proceeds to the state. Beneficiaries can claim the money from the state—millions of dollars sit in state coffers, just waiting.
Here are ten ways to find unclaimed life insurance benefits.
When you sort through the deceased person's papers, look for any insurance-related documents, like correspondence from an insurance company or evidence of checks written for payments—even if they're decades old. Some policies stay in force long after all the required premiums have been paid.
If the deceased was still making payments on the policy, you'll probably get a bill when the next premium is due. Even if payments weren't required, the company might send periodic statements setting out the value of the policy.
Many people get life insurance through their work or union membership; ask whether any policies were still in effect.
Some life insurance policies pay interest. So, you might find evidence of those payments in old tax returns. Likewise, check old bank statements to see if any checks or automated payments have been made out to life insurance companies over the years.
If you think your family member had a policy with a particular company, call and ask. If the company has merged with another insurer or changed its name, you can probably get help from your state's insurance department. You might also find help on the company's website; MetLife, for instance, has an online search feature.
If the deceased person had a safety deposit box, check there for an insurance policy or related documents.
Call the deceased person's homeowners' and auto insurance agent to find out if that agent also sold life insurance to the decedent. While you're at it, also contact present or prior lawyers, accountants, and other financial professionals who could have information about the deceased person's life insurance policies.
Many states offer free unclaimed life insurance search services. Also, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) helps consumers locate life insurance policies and annuity contracts of deceased persons.
If it's been more than a year or two since the death, contact the state's unclaimed property department. If you're not sure where to start, go to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators website.
If your free searches don't yield any results, you may use a private company that will, for a price, help you search for a lost life insurance policy. The MIB Group, for example, has a database of policies, which it will search for a fee. But many paid-for searches aren't successful, even if a policy is in place.
After you buy a life insurance policy (or policies), you can keep your family from being one of the millions who miss out on the benefits they had coming. All you need to do is:
Better yet, give them a copy of a statement from the insurance company, so they'll have the policy number and contact information when the time comes. If your beneficiaries are children—or you don't want to give this information to them for any other reason—give it to the person you named as executor in your will. Also, make sure that the beneficiaries' information on the policy is up to date.
Your family members might not have any idea about the insurance policies you own. Keep a copy of any insurance policy paperwork in a safe location with your other estate documents. Organize the documents so that your beneficiaries can easily find out about benefits and make sure they know where you keep your estate documents.