How to Find a Lost Life Insurance Policy

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The fact that a loved one had the foresight to take out a life insurance policy doesn’t guarantee the paperwork will be easily accessible after his or her death—or even that the policy holder will have mentioned it at all. He or she may have forgotten about a smaller policy, or may have named as a beneficiary someone who is not a family member or close friend. In fact, Consumer Reports calculated that one in 600 Americans is the beneficiary of an unclaimed policy, with an average benefit of $2,000. Here’s how to see if you’re one of them.

Where to start looking   

If the person died within the last few years, contact the executor of the deceased’s will, as well as his or her accountant or attorney. If you have access to the person’s records or storage, the Insurance Information Institute recommends checking bank statements for payments to insurance companies and reviewing tax returns for interest income from insurers.

Look through address books and email files for names of insurance agents and financial advisors. It’s also worth calling the person’s bank (to see if the policy was kept in a safe deposit box) and his or her employer—a work-sponsored policy may exist. (Companies keep records of past group policies.) If these attempts prove fruitless, contact the insurer through which the deceased bought home and life insurance to check if another policy exists.  

It will speed your search if you know the policy holder’s full name—including a maiden name, if applicable—as well as his or her Social Security number. Consumer Reports recommends also having handy the person’s approximate birth date and date of death, and last state of residence. To claim any policy that’s found, you’ll need a certified death certificate.

State and national databases

If your family member or loved one has been gone for a longer period of time, try using the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ life insurance policy locator tool. Launched at the end of 2016, the database has helped more than 8,000 people track down benefits worth $92.5 million.

You should also check with state insurance departments and unclaimed property offices, provided you know—or can accurately guess—the state in which the person purchased the policy. As a rule, an insurance company will turn over unclaimed death benefits to the unclaimed property office, which should work to track down beneficiaries. A state insurance department can also help you unwind tricky situations that could hinder your search, such as when an insurance company was sold and now operates under a different name.

If something turns up

Call the insurer’s customer service or claims department if the person has died within several years. You don’t need a copy of the policy or a policy number to make a claim if you’re the named beneficiary—you just need a death certificate and willingness to fill out some paperwork. You should receive the money within several weeks. If the person died more than three years ago, call the appropriate unclaimed property office. States usually require insurers to turn over policy proceeds to these offices at the three-year mark. It may take longer to receive these funds.

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