Life insurance death benefits may represent a significant portion of the deceased’s estate. It is important to identify what insurance policies may exist and to notify the insurance companies of the death.
Locating Life Insurance Policies and Coverage
Locate and safeguard all life insurance policies or any other indications of life insurance policies such as premium notices. Do not discard any documents that look official, especially insurance policies that appear to have lapsed. Even if a policy owner had ceased paying premiums, a life insurance policy may have been kept in force by some arrangements stated in the policy.
Often the best and quickest way to locate life insurance policies is to check the deceased’s checking accounts, credit card statements, payroll records, debt records, receipts, and correspondence. Also, if an accident was involved, check auto and homeowner insurance policies. Remember that some credit card companies and travel agencies provide accidental death coverage if their services were used for travel arrangements. Determine how travel arrangements were made and paid, and check airline ticket folders and luggage for insurance policies.
Contact friends, neighbors and relatives of the deceased for any information they may have about life insurance policies. Find out the names of life insurance agents or brokers that may have had dealings with the deceased and contact them. Ask these agents or brokers for names of other agents or brokers whom they feel may have dealt with the deceased. It is common to have more than one agent or broker. Locate the attorneys, accountants and bookkeepers who have prepared legal, accounting, or tax work and ask them if they are aware of any policies, agents or brokers with whom the deceased may have worked.
Review those policies that you have located to determine prior policies the deceased may have owned. In the back of most life insurance policies is a copy of the original application. The application normally asks for the names of companies, amounts of coverage, and when or if prior life insurances had been applied for. This may help you locate older policies and prior insurance agents.
If you suspect that the name of an insurance company may have changed, contact the National Association of Insurance Commissioners by going to https://eapps.naic.org/life-policy-locator/#/welcome.
If you still feel that there is a life insurance policy or other benefits outstanding, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope and your request to:
Missing Policy Service
American Council of Life Insurance
101 Constitution Avenue NW, #700
Washington, D.C. 20001-2133
You will receive, at no charge, a lost policy tracer form to fill out and return (phone requests will not be accepted). The Missing Policy Service then sends copies of your lost policy tracer form to about 100 of the largest life insurance companies for them to search their records for the name of the deceased. This process will take three to six months, or longer.
If the insurance company finds that the deceased has a policy in force, that insurance company will then contact you directly. The American Council on Life Insurance does not do any searching of its own, nor does it notify you of any results — good or bad. It does provide you with a very valuable service by distributing your inquiry to the companies that write about 70 percent of all life insurance policies sold.
Another important source of information is the Medical Information Bureau, which provides a service for life insurance companies. However, this firm can only provide you with the names of insurance companies to which the deceased applied for a policy, not whether a policy was actually issued. After you are provided the names of the companies, it is up to you to contact them regarding what actions they may have taken regarding an individual applicant. You should also be aware that only 10 percent to 15 percent of life insurance applications are reported to the Medical Information Bureau, and its records only go back seven years. The Bureau also has an “activity index” that lists the insurance companies that inquired about a particular individual, which is kept for the last two years.
To use the Medical Information Bureau’s free service, contact:
Medical Information Bureau
50 Braintree Hill Park, Suite 400
Braintree, MA 02184-8734
Telephone: (781) 329-4500
To help you, the Bureau must have: (1) a detailed identification of the deceased, including full name, date of birth and place of birth, (2) a copy of the death certificate, and (3) either the personal representative’s court issued Certificate of Qualification or, if there is no personal representative, a letter from an attorney stating that you are an appropriate person to handle such matters and that the deceased’s estate is not subject to probate.
If the life insurance proceeds may have been paid to the State of Arizona because named beneficiaries could not be located, you should contact:
The Arizona Department of Revenue
Unclaimed Property Unit
PO Box 29026
Phoenix, AZ 85038-9026
Telephone: (602) 364-0380 or (877) 492-9957
Filing a Life Insurance Claim
Normally, insurance companies require two forms to establish proof of a claim: (1) a statement of claims and (2) a death certificate or attending physician’s statement. A company, however, reserves the right to request further information or proof if deemed necessary.
The claimant’s certificate must be completed by the person legally entitled to receive the proceeds. This person must state in what capacity he or she makes claim: named beneficiary, assignee, executor, administrator, guardian or trustee.
If the beneficiary is incompetent or is a minor, a guardian should file the form. If proceeds are to be paid to an estate, an administrator or executor should complete the form. In each case, a certificate of appointment must be furnished.
If the named beneficiary is deceased, his or her death certificate must be provided as additional proof.