The death of a loved one is, of course, a stressful time. Not only are you grieving, you might also be bearing a heavy load of practical and logistical work related to funeral planning, bureaucracy (like getting a death certificate) and so on. One area where we hope we can make life easier: Filing a claim when you’re a life insurance beneficiary.
How do you do that? Follow this simple guide.
Determine that you are, in fact, a beneficiary
It all starts here. In an ideal world, your loved one will have left you clear and detailed instructions about his or her policy, including the policy number. In the real world, this doesn’t always happen. That’s why life insurance companies are required by law to conduct a search of the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (or similar database) — literally, a federal database of everyone who has died — on at least a semi-annual basis, and then use good faith efforts to locate and contact the beneficiaries of anyone who turns up. If your loved one has a Haven Term policy issued by MassMutual, know that MassMutual, the issuer of the policy, chooses to mine this database every month. (In related news, it’s always a good idea to notify the Social Security Administration that your loved one has died.)
But let’s say you know your loved one’s life insurance company and you know you’re a beneficiary. Then you’re ready for the next step. Which is…
Gather some basic info about your loved one
To make your claim, you will need a government-issued death certificate, which will clearly state the date and cause of death. This is key — not for nothing did PBS Frontline once call a death certificate “arguably the most important legal document in existence.” This is so the life insurance company can be certain the claim is valid. (If your loved one died within the contestability period, you might also need to provide additional documentation (such as medical records — more on that later.)
You’ll also want to have your loved one’s date of birth and Social Security number, so that the life insurance company references the right person. (It’s possible for one carrier to insure, say, two or more Louis Wilsons.) And then it’s helpful, though not essential, to have the policy number. You’ll also want to note your relationship to the deceased person. Note that all of these things except the final death certificate can be obtained while your loved one is still living — and that doing so can ease some pressure during what will already be a difficult time.
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Contact the life insurance company
Typically this can go down one of two ways: The more common way (you reach out after procuring the contact details for your loved one’s life insurance company and plan number), or the less common way (the life insurance company contacts you after discovering that your loved one has died).
Assuming you’ll be doing the contacting, you can file a claim by emailing or calling the claims team or any other contact provided in the policy document or on the website. When you do (and whatever medium you choose), you’ll then be asked a series of questions. Fair warning: Some questions might seem odd, but are required. For example, you will likely be asked about the loved one’s marriage history — if this person had ever been divorced, remarried, etc. This is simply to determine if divorce laws apply. (This topic is especially sensitive because divorce laws, which can impact property ownership, vary state by state.) You might want to prepare yourself emotionally and mentally for these kinds of questions.
Things that can extend wait times for a claim
Generally, it usually takes on two to four weeks after all the required claim documentation is received for a life insurance company to pay out a claim. You can even choose to receive the payment through direct deposit if your life insurance company offers that option, reducing lag time caused by mail delivery.
A few factors might extend that wait:
If your loved one dies abroad …
This can add an extra layer of paperwork to getting a death certificate, which in turn means it will take the insurer longer to validate a claim.
If your loved one dies within the contestability period …
Typically, there is a two-year suicide and contestability period from the time coverage begins. This means the insurer can review documentation to confirm that there was no material misrepresentation at the time of the application for the policy (such as not disclosing a serious illness). This is to protect insurers from potential fraud. It’s a sensitive topic, and one that no party broaches lightly.
If you use a third party …
Often, funeral homes will offer to assist with filing a claim, or some people work with an attorney. Only you can make the right choice for you. You might prefer to work directly with the life insurance company to be able to respond quickly in case any other information is needed to pay the claim.
Oh, and we should mention that if, for whatever reason, you do not file a claim right away, that doesn’t mean you will not be paid. Again, all life insurance companies are legally required to search the Death Master File at least semi-annually, which means that if your loved one named you as a beneficiary, the life insurance carrier will make a good faith effort to locate you. It’s always a good idea to for the insured to update the beneficiary’s contact details with the insurer if there have been any changes.
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One final thing
Rarely, a life insurance company might not honor a claim — for misrepresenting on an application, for example, or for a variety of reasons we’ve outlined here. If that happens, the life insurance company will let you know, typically with a letter explaining why.
As we noted, this is uncommon. Saying goodbye to a loved one is hard enough already. But if you and the insurer have the right information, making a life insurance claim should be the least of your worries.
Louis Wilson is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in a wide array of publications, both online and in print. He often writes about travel, sports, popular culture, men’s fashion and grooming, and more. He lives in Austin, Texas, where he has developed an unbridled passion for breakfast tacos, with his wife and two children. This article is sponsored by Haven Life Insurance Agency. Opinions are his own.
Haven Life Insurance Agency offers this as educational only, and the information provided is not written or intended as specific legal advice. Haven Life Insurance Agency does not provide legal advice. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own legal counsel.