For anyone supporting a spouse, family or aging parents, life insurance represents a vital purchase loved ones can depend on.
With the right policy bought, signed and stored safely away, collecting on the contract following death simply requires the beneficiary-or caretaker of the proceeds—to provide the insurance company a copy of the loved one’s death certificate.
But what if Grandpa Joe or Aunt Molly tucked that life insurance policy safely away years ago—and neglected to tell anyone where? How can the beneficiary claim the money if no one even knows where the policy is?
Strategies for Finding Missing Policies
Unfortunately, there’s no national or statewide database of life insurance policies to consult for help. But with determination, digging and strategizing, it’s not hard to find what may have been lost years before. And the results can be very rewarding!
If you’re due the proceeds of a missing life insurance policy, try these strategies to help locate it and claim what’s rightfully yours.
- Look for cancelled checks or receipts made out to—or received from—insurance companies. Search through the deceased’s files, bank account records, storage items and bank deposit boxes for documents like these that may provide clues as to who issued the missing policy.
- Ask others who may be “in the know” for information, including family lawyers, friends, financial advisors and business partners. The most helpful information may come from the least likely source.
- Examine other insurance documents for information. The loved one who passed may have purchased more than one type of policy from the same insurance company—in which case, tracking down the insurance company, and eventually finding the life insurance policy, could be easy.
- Contact previous employers. If the insured purchased life insurance through a group policy at work, the employer’s human resources department should have record of it.
- Review past income taxes. Look for interest income earned or expenses paid by the life insurance company that might reveal the policy’s source.
- Keep an eye on the deceased’s mail. For at least a year following death, watch for premium or dividend notices—or annual policy status statements—that reveal where the insurance policy may have been purchased.
- Contact the state department of insurance. Employees may have information available that can help locate the insurer who wrote the insurance policy. (Life insurance companies searching for beneficiaries may also contact this agency in an effort to find you.)
- Inquire with the state’s unclaimed property office. If a beneficiary can’t be located within three to five years of death, the insurer may turn insurance benefits over to the state for safekeeping.
- Contact the Medical Information Bureau (MIB) or another private service that may have record of medical information requested when the deceased applied for life insurance. Private databases like the MIB may be able to provide a trail of evidence that leads to the lost life insurance policy.
Time Limits & Payouts
Experts say that more than one-forth of all life insurance benefits are never claimed. That’s an amazing statistic—especially since there’s no time limit involved.
That’s right. Even if a life policy isn’t found for 10, 15 or even 20 years following death, the insurance company will still honor the agreement and pay the claim when the policy is located—as long as the deceased passed away while the plan was still in effect and premiums remain current.
If Grandpa Joe dies and his life insurance policy lapses due to non-payment, the insurance company will try to contact him to find out why. At that point, the person named beneficiary can inform the insurer of his death, file for payment, and claim the money as outlined in Grandpa Joe’s policy.
However, if death occurs and no one steps up to collect on the policy, the insurance company has two options: hold on to the money until a beneficiary can be found or turn the entire amount over to the state until claimed. Either way, the money remains untouched until the beneficiary finds it.
The Final Reward
Though it may not be easy, finding a life insurance policy that’s gone MIA takes an investment of time and energy.
But with determination, a little time and the right strategy, it can usually be done in short order—and may just lead to hidden treasure.