There are several approaches you can take to find an unclaimed life insurance policy held by a deceased loved one. These range from simply thinking through all the places the person might have kept policy paperwork, to taking advantage of some online tools that let you access life insurance databases. These tools include the Life Insurance Policy Locator offered by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).
Are you looking for an unclaimed life insurance policy?
Managing the estate of a deceased parent or other loved one can be a challenging task. If you’re fortunate, they kept good records — including a last will — and left a solid paper trail. Perhaps they even had a conversation with you to explain where they kept important paperwork, including any insurance documents.
But even the most organized people can let some things fall through the cracks. A common such oversight is life insurance policy paperwork. As a beneficiary on a life insurance policy, you’ll need this paperwork (along with the person’s death certificate) to file a claim for a death benefit payout.
If you do find yourself looking for a “lost” life insurance policy, you’re not alone. According to the NAIC, millions of dollars in life insurance benefits go unclaimed annually in the United States. The good news is that with a little detective work, and the use of some insurance industry tools and resources, you have a chance of finding your loved one’s policy.
Here are several approaches you can take to find an unclaimed life insurance policy.
Contact the life insurance company
If you know which insurance company sold the policy but you simply can’t find the paperwork, try contacting the insurer or one of its agents. The company should have the policy on file, and can help you (or the appropriate beneficiary) start a claim.
One catch: It’s possible the original life insurance company no longer exists. As with any other type of business, life insurance companies come and go. The chance you have to deal with this is even more likely when you consider that the policy you’re looking for may have been purchased decades ago (think of how many companies have gone out of business in the last 20 years). When this happens, the company may transfer its policies to another life insurer, which can add a layer of complexity to your search.
Look for life insurance documents
Think of everywhere your loved one might have kept insurance paperwork: a fire safe, a filing cabinet, a desk drawer, a kitchen cabinet, a box in a bedroom closet, etc. If you’re tasked with cleaning out their house, keep an eye out for any paperwork (while you’re at it, you’ll want to locate things such as bank and tax records). Make sure others involved in the clean-out do the same.
Did they have a safe deposit box at a bank? If so, ask the bank for access. You’ll need proof of your identity, plus the death certificate. Some states’ laws may require an additional court order. The bank can advise you on what you’ll need.
You’ll also want to look through their computer files. Check their email, hard drive, cloud storage, and any other place they might have kept records related to life insurance.
Contact your loved one’s financial advisors and other close associates
Life insurance might have come up in your loved one’s dealings with their financial advisors. So check with their accountant, attorney, banker, financial planner and any business partners. These individuals may not have specifics about the policy. But if they did a very thorough job of getting to know your loved one (who was their client or partner, after all), they may recall which company provided the insurance.
Likewise, if they purchased car or home insurance, you’ll want to check with their agent. The agent might have sold the life insurance policy as well.
Review banking records
Once you get access to your loved one’s bank accounts, check their account and credit card statements for any premium payments. Look at 12 months of records, at a minimum. You may be able to find at least the name of the insurance company. You might also find deposit records for any dividend the policy might have paid.
Note that this approach isn’t foolproof. If, for instance, your loved one had a cash value policy, and had it set up so any dividend went toward paying off the premium, there may be no recent bank records.
Review tax records
If you can find your loved one’s tax returns (or you contact their accountant), check to see if they recorded any interest income from their life insurance company, or any interest paid to the company for a loan against the policy. This might reveal the name of the insurer.
Contact the employer
If your loved one had group life insurance through their employer, contact the company’s human resource department and ask for information about the policy.
Keep an eye on the mail
Part of managing your loved one’s estate will be handling their mail — you may even decide to have it forwarded permanently to your own address. So look out for mail from a life insurance company. This could include an invoice for premiums due, or other notices regarding the policy.
Use the NAIC Policy Locator
The NAIC offers a Life Insurance Policy Locator Service to help you find your loved one’s insurance company. You’ll need to set up an account, and key in some information about the deceased person. Note, however, that insurance companies are not required to participate in the service, and it may take up to 90 business days to be contacted if one does. But the service is free, so it’s worth trying.
Contact your state’s insurance department
Your state’s department of insurance does not keep records of individual life insurance policies. However, it may offer resources to help you locate your loved one’s life insurance company. A handful of departments provide the ability to start a search online, using databases from companies licensed to sell policies in that state.
If your state’s not listed here, try the NAIC’s Life Insurance Policy Locator Service, which is described earlier in this article.
Contact your state’s unclaimed property office
Another approach is to check with the office in your state that handles unclaimed property. If a life insurance company knows its policyholder has died, but cannot locate the beneficiary, it’s required to turn the death benefit over to the state where the policy was purchased.
You can also visit the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators website. Representing all 50 states, this site provides useful tools and resources to help people find and claim property (and money) that they rightfully own.
Check the life insurance database offered by MIB
MIB Group, Inc. is a company that helps its partner life and health insurers (referred to as members) underwrite more accurately, which in turn helps lower the cost of these insurance products.
Of greater interest to you, however, is that the company maintains a database of life insurance policy applications from its member companies since 1996. You can request a Policy Locator Service Report, at the MIB website, for a $75 fee. If MIB is able to match a policy to your loved one’s name, the report will tell you the life insurance company and the date of the application.
Keep in mind that this only taps into records of life insurance applications, not active policies. And according to the Insurance Information Institute, a random sample of searches found that MIB was able to return a match in only one out of every four requests. But if you’re really having a hard time finding any leads, and you don’t mind spending a little money, this might be worth trying.
Wait it out
Finally, it’s possible that the insurance company will actually contact you. Many insurers regularly match up their records with the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (in fact, they’re required to do so in more than half of U.S. states). As the name implies, this file lists all the deaths reported to the administration by funeral homes or loved ones. Once the insurance company makes a match, they obtain the addresses for any beneficiaries on the policy and send out the claim paperwork. Note that this process can take some time. So unless you’re really in no hurry, you may want to be more proactive with your search.
It’s not a hopeless cause!
You may not know what happened to your loved one’s life insurance policy, but that doesn’t mean the cause is hopeless. With a little detective work, and the use of some available online tools and databases, there’s a good chance you can track down that policy and make sure you and any other beneficiaries receive the death benefit you’re owed.