It’s not unusual to lose track of a life insurance policy. After all, Americans currently have more than 290 million policies in force, making life insurance more plentiful even than the 270 million registered vehicles on our roads.
Unlike our cars, though, life insurance can be understandably forgotten when you consider that some people have a policy in force for 10, 20 or even 30 years. After years of raising children, home buying, and other major milestones, the paperwork or login info can get lost in the shuffle of life.
Because the insured is usually the person paying the premium, it can leave many beneficiaries unaware of coverage or in a situation where they don’t know where to collect the proceeds of a life insurance policy (otherwise known as a death benefit.)
And even though most insurers have systems in place to help locate beneficiaries when a policyholder passes away, there are a few simple tricks to keep in mind should you need to track down a lost life insurance policy.
Where to look for a lost policy
If there’s a policy in force, then the policyholder has been paying premiums, so you may be able to find records of those transactions in bank statements, whether they’re online or printed. This is one of the simplest ways to find a policy.
Search monthly transactions for any clues about which insurance company to contact. For example, customers with the Haven Term policy, issued by MassMutual, will have the draft from their bank account come up as “MASSMUTUAL/HAVEN INSPREMIUM…” on a monthly basis.
If search results don’t turn up any information about what insurance company to contact, you should still go through transactions line by line to be sure you aren’t overlooking something. If the policyholder paid the premiums annually, you may need to go through a couple year’s worth of transactions to see when the payment occurred.
Once you find the life insurance company’s name, you can get in touch with its customer service or claims department. Even if you don’t have a policy number, be sure to have the policyholder’s Social Security number and other identifying information, such as date of birth, address, and phone number. To streamline the process, the beneficiary should be the one to file the claim.
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Check with financial advisors, lawyers, and employers
What if the policyholder recently changed banks and hadn’t made a premium payment since opening the new account? In that case, bank records may not help and you might need to dig a little deeper.
Check with the policyholder’s employer to see if he or she had life insurance coverage included as an employment benefit. The premiums for employer-provided coverage may be included as part of company benefits or billed through payroll deduction, which may explain why bank records didn’t include transactions for premiums.
Additionally, it’s possible the policyholder sought advice from a financial planner or life insurance agent before buying coverage — this is especially the case if it’s a whole life policy. Unlike term life, which offers coverage for a specific period of time, a whole life policy offers coverage for as long as the policyholder lives, and it usually includes a cash value component that often involves monitoring and management from a professional. As a result, the policyholder may have worked with a financial advisor or lawyer to manage their assets.
Wait for the insurance company to contact the beneficiary
Even if you can find no record of a life insurance policy in personal financial records, there are still several factors working in your favor. One of them is the insurance company itself. When insurance companies learn about the death of a policyholder (through third-party scanning services that are in place), most have procedures in place to start trying to find the policy’s beneficiary. (Our parent company, MassMutual, does.)
Not only is it the right thing to do, but there’s also a financial incentive for insurance companies to pay the beneficiary the death benefit as soon as possible. This is because varying state interest rates accrue the longer the claim remains unpaid.
Contacting state resources
Even with an insurance company’s efforts, it’s not always possible to find a beneficiary. In such cases, the insurance company transfers the payout to the state where the policy was issued. Normally, the money goes to the state’s office of unclaimed property.
You can find and check your state’s database of unclaimed property here. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) also offers a lost policy service. It may take a few months for unclaimed property databases to show results, so this is an option that’s most useful if it’s been a while since the policyholder passed away.
The insurance industry also keeps track of policies through the Medical Information Bureau, or MIB. The bureau offers online tools to track down a lost policy if it is medically underwritten, which is the type many term and permanent life insurance buyers have.
Ways to avoid losing track of a policy
There are few times in life that are more heartbreaking or stressful than the death of a loved one. If you have life insurance coverage, or if you’re shopping for a policy, there are many steps you can take now to help ensure it’s smooth sailing for your beneficiary if anything ever happened to you.
Have a conversation
Start by talking with your family about your coverage so they’ll know what insurance company you’ve chosen and how to file a claim. Life insurance touches on topics like finances and death which are sensitive for some people, so it’s easy to put off such discussions. But it’s also an important conversation since it could make it easier for your beneficiary to file a claim if you died unexpectedly and your loved one needed the coverage as quickly as possible.
As with any other important financial documents and logins, you should keep life insurance policy and company information in a central, secure and organized location for your partner or beneficiaries.
Some prefer the pen-and-paper approach by writing down account numbers and storing policy documents in an office folder for safekeeping. Others use digital folders to maintain and store up-to-date passwords and policy forms.
Your preferred method isn’t as important as simply ensuring you have some sort of organized way for your loved ones to easily access accounts and assets if you were to die suddenly. And, remember to update your information at least every year.
Make your plans known
Creating a living will or an estate plan is another way to help guide your survivors to locating your assets as efficiently as possible. If you have a partner, children or assets you wish to leave to a friend or loved one, then it’s imperative that you have a living will. Get in touch with a lawyer who specializes in estate planning to start this process.
These documents address important affairs when you die and specify who can make financial and medical decisions on your behalf should you be unable to make them for yourself. Typically, you do not want to rely on the laws of your home state to make these decisions for you.
Most insurance companies have processes in place to help
A death in the immediate family creates a chaotic environment, especially if the death was unexpected. So what would happen if, despite your best intentions, your beneficiary forgot about your policy and didn’t file a claim? Could the insurance company just keep the money?
Most insurers are proactive about finding life insurance beneficiaries and starting the claims process even for people who didn’t know their deceased loved one had a life insurance policy in force.
Life insurance offers reasons to worry less
Life insurance policies are popular because of the peace of mind they offer the insured. With dependable coverage in place, you can stop worrying about how your family would survive financially if the unthinkable happened and you died way too soon. Instead, you’ll know you’ve done what you can to help financially protect your family even during challenging times.
So if you have coverage in force, or if you’re shopping for coverage, tell your beneficiary. Write down your policy information. Hopefully they’ll never need to use your coverage, but at least both of you have the peace of mind in knowing it’s there.
If you’ve lost a family member who had a life insurance policy in force, know that there are systems and resources in place to help you locate a policy or for the insurance company to assist.
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Haven Life doesn’t provide legal or tax advice. This discussion is intended as general education only.