Just this week, the nation’s largest life insurer agreed to pay $40 million to settle a multistate probe regarding the way the company has handled the distribution of death benefit. The outcome could result in over $400 million in payments to beneficiaries of the company’s policies. Historically, life insurance companies have only paid benefits when a beneficiary filed a claim. The current development is part of a push to get life insurers to use more proactive and aggressive tactics to find beneficiaries by frequently cross-checking death databases against their policyholder bases.
Life insurance companies have a legal and moral obligation to seek you out if you’re a named beneficiary, but what if they can’t find you? And how are you supposed to know if Cousin Fred or Great Aunt Agatha had a life insurance policy with your name on it, anyway? Read on and we’ll tell you.
The whole problem would go away if policy holders would just tell their relatives that they’re a beneficiary, give them the name of the life insurance company and put the policy in a place where the beneficiary can find it. Unfortunately, people like your Great Aunt tend to keep that info secret, partly because they don’t want to start family squabbles and sometimes because they actually fear their relatives will bump them off for the cash.
So let’s say, Uncle Edgar died without spilling the beneficiary beans. The insurance company tries to notify you, but you’ve moved few dozen times or lived abroad and didn’t get the message. Depending on the law in the state where the policy was issued, after three to five years, the insurance company must turn over the death benefit to the state’s comptroller’s office where it will sit until you come forward to claim it.
There are plenty of ways to find out if you’re owed unclaimed life insurance benefits. One of the easiest is MissingMoney.com, a free online search service operated by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. You could also rifle through your deceased relative’s canceled checks and credit card statements to see if there’s any record of payments on a life insurance policy.
If you don’t have the physical policy, you can still recover the benefits but you’ll need to provide credible proof that you are who you say you are. Having the policy number will greatly facilitate the process.
What if your dearly departed departed 20 years ago? The good news is that unclaimed life insurance benefits have a shelf life of forever, if the policy was in good standing when your relative shuffled off his or her mortal coil. Read more about that in Part II of this article.