I’ve always loved that saying, “Not all heroes wear capes.” It’s usually accompanied by pictures of pizza deliverymen, the people who work at Chick-fil-A, or various other ways of saying we love people that make life better (or in the case of my examples, more delicious).
Going into an interview with Jeff Butcher, Senior Claims Examiner at MassMutual, I didn’t realize I’d be so touched by the role of a claims examiner. To be honest, when I really thought about it, I thought it must be a pretty depressing job. A claims examiner is the person who handles the payout of a life insurance policy. They deal with death and loss every day.
You’ll soon see Jeff doesn’t view his role that way.
The reason I spoke with Jeff is because MassMutual issues the Haven Term policy and, thus, is responsible for paying death benefits. (That’s a good thing for our customers because when you buy term life insurance, you want to know the policy is from a company that has a long history of financial strength and timely payment of claims.)
We get a lot of questions from our customers and applicants about how the claims process works. Luckily, we have access to claim examiners like Jeff.
How did you become a claims examiner?
I started with MassMutual in 2000, as part of the Life Service Center. Being part of the service center gave me a unique perspective of the inner workings of most departments at MassMutual. And that’s where the majority of claims begin – in the call center.
As a call center representative, you answer the initial calls from customers and often interact with members of the deceased’s family. After getting some initial information from the person calling, they go to the claims department to begin the process. I was always very interested in being part of the full claims process. Then, an opening came available in 2005.
I believe the claims department is the best way, as an employee, to help our customers. We fulfill the ultimate promise.
I’d think your job would be very challenging, but you say you get to fulfill our policyholders’ “ultimate promise.” I love that. What do you enjoy most about your job?
The thing I enjoy most about my job is the opportunity to help people during a very difficult time in their lives. These people are typically shocked and unprepared for the loss they are facing. If anything I do can alleviate some pain or burden from them, then that’s very rewarding to me.
As a claims examiner, you are in charge of fulfilling the ultimate commitment that MassMutual makes to their policy owners. Our commitment is to help people secure the future of and protect the ones they love. It’s a powerful thing.
The impression that we make as examiners on our beneficiaries can last a very long time.
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Who can call in to submit a life insurance claim?
Initial notification of death typically comes from those closest to the deceased, including beneficiaries and family members. However, the beneficiary must be the one to complete the claim requirements in order to receive the death benefit proceeds.
When calling in to start the claims process, it’s most helpful if you can provide the following information:
- Relationship to the deceased
- Personal information about the insured, beneficiary and date of death
- Policy number
- If there is a reason for urgency, let them know!
What is the full process for submitting a claim?
Typically, the full process goes like this:
- The death of an insured is reported by a beneficiary or family member
- The claims department prepares the case for examination
- The case is reviewed and appropriate claims requirements are sent to the beneficiary
- Beneficiary must complete the requirements form and send in with the deceased’s death certificate
- The claims department reviews the submission to determine that the requirements are completed accordingly
- Payment is sent to the beneficiary. (If the beneficiary cannot be found or does not complete the claim in a certain period of time, the proceeds are escheated to the appropriate state.)
Does the process differ significantly when there are multiple beneficiaries?
When there are multiple beneficiaries, each of them needs to fill out their own claim form.
What happens if you can’t get in touch with a beneficiary, or if they don’t know a policy exists?
At MassMutual, we are very proactive about trying to locate beneficiaries. When you sell a life insurance policy to a person, you’re making a promise to deliver the claim to their loved ones who they are trying to financially protect. We work hard to follow through and fulfill that process.
If we can’t get in touch with a beneficiary, we have procedures in place to try and reach them. There are individuals in our company whose responsibilities include finding contact information for beneficiaries or family members.
In a situation where perhaps a beneficiary doesn’t know their deceased loved one has a life insurance policy, we proactively match our records against the Social Security Death Master File (aka the DMF) and other death records databases on a monthly and quarterly basis. When these databases pick up that an insured has died and a claim has not been started, we then start the claims process and try and find the beneficiary.
Note from Brittney: We discuss this more in another blog post.
What is the typical time frame for paying out a claim?
Typically, from the time we are notified of the death to when payment is released, it takes about 30 days. We try very hard to stick within this time frame.
Is a death benefit taxable?
A death benefit is usually not taxable to the beneficiary. However, from the date the policyholder dies, whether a beneficiary has notified us or not, the death benefit starts to accrue interest because the insurer is holding on to it and must pay interest just like your bank would. You get taxed on the difference in accrued interest. The rate for a death benefit issued is typically 3 percent annually. So, if the death benefit goes unreleased for a year on that $500,000 policy, you will accrue $15,000 in interest, which would be taxable. If it went 30 days, you would receive $1,250.
If you have further questions about the claims process, we’re happy to reach out to Jeff and help address them. Send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.