we mourn the high-profile deaths of soul icon Aretha
Franklin and Arizona Sen. John McCain this past week, itís
not a bad time to put a spotlight on dreaded topics,
such as end-of-life paperwork.
matter how loved or how respected, people die. And those
who are left behind must gather the pieces.
where exactly is that life insurance policy?
might think no one could lose track of a life insurance
policy. Think again. At one point, it was estimated that
at least $10 billion in life insurance policies
nationwide had gone unclaimed or unpaid.
own family ran up against this one when my father died
families donít know if someone took out a life
insurance policy. Or they donít know what company
holds the policy. People may move around from one state
to another and lose the paperwork.
times, frankly, people donít like to talk about things
such as insurance or death.
might think, wrongly, that if someone dies with an
insurance policy that somehow the beneficiary will find
out about it and be able to claim the money. But thatís
not always true.
the years, weíve heard stories of family members who
would receive a check for one policy after the death.
But they did not know about other policies at the same
insurer. It could take years ó if ever ó to find out
about those other policies.
years ago, life insurers faced tough scrutiny from state
regulators in California, Florida and elsewhere for the
failure to pay death benefits because it is up to the
beneficiaries to file a claim following a death.
how do you file a claim if you donít know if thereís
regulators maintained that life insurance companies were
not taking adequate steps to try to pay up when some
information was available but no life insurance claim
had been filed. Insurers would use information from the
Social Security Administrationís Death Master File to
stop paying a deceased personís annuity but not use
similar information to search for beneficiaries of a
life insurance policy.
multistate effort by regulators led to settlements in
which more than $8.7 billion in life insurance proceeds
was returned to U.S. consumers. And more than $3.25
billion was returned to individual states, where
unclaimed-property programs continue efforts to locate
and pay beneficiaries.
for example, had reached regulatory settlement
agreements with dozens of companies, including John
Hancock, Prudential, Met Life, AIG, Nationwide,
TIAA-CREF, ING, Transamerica, New York Life, Jackson
National Life Insurance Company, Hartford Fire &
Casualty Group, Aflac and State Farm.
then, more programs exist to help consumers search for
lost life insurance policies.
National Association of Insurance Commissioners has its
own Life Insurance Policy Locator Service, which was
introduced in 2016. The national tool so far has matched
21,530 policies with consumers ó uncovering policies
with a reported face value of nearly $309.2 million.
do you start looking for a lost life insurance policy?
No. 1: Dig for clues in the paperwork
you want to find is any kind of paper trail that might
uncover a lost or little-known insurance policy for a
deceased loved one.
59 percent, or 192 million, of Americans have some type
of life insurance, either covered in individual or group
policies, according to LIMRA, which focuses on life
insurance and retirement research. The top three reasons
consumers give for having life insurance are: covering
burial and final expenses, replacing lost wages or
income of a loved one and leaving an inheritance.
happens to be life insurance awareness month.
the odds are fairly good that a loved one could have
life insurance, even if you donít realize it.
to look: Bank statements or old canceled checks could
show payments that were made to life insurance companies
over the years.
for paperwork in lock boxes or safety deposit boxes. Ask
family members, financial advisers and insurance agents
about life insurance policies.
there any copies of applications for life insurance
policies in files or drawers? An application for a life
insurance policy would list other life insurance
policies owned at the time of the application.
copies of the deceasedís tax returns for the past two
years to spot any interest income or expense reported
that relates to a life insurance policy.
something as basic as keeping an eye on the mail,
according to a tips list from the Insurance Information
Institute. Look for premium notices or dividend notices
in the mail for the year following the death of a
a policy is paid up, you would not receive a bill for
premium payments. But the company might still send an
annual notice or a notice of a dividend, according to
the Insurance Information Institute.
with any former employers of the deceased, as they may
have information on group life coverage.
No. 2: Do a free search of databases
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offers its free Life Insurance Annuity Search Service
through the state Department of Insurance and Financial
Services to help locate a deceased family memberís
life insurance policy or annuity contract that was
purchased in Michigan. See www.michigan.gov/difs and
really happy to see all that money going to consumers
who were owed it under their life insurance or annuity
contracts," said Amy Miilu, insurance complaint
manager for the Michigan Department of Insurance and
the high end, Miilu said a few found policies amounted
to close to a million dollars.
smallest payouts to beneficiaries ended up being a few
hundred dollars, often involving a graded death benefit
policy. Such policies enable a consumer who is not
healthy to buy insurance but if the consumer dies in the
first few years after the policy is purchased the payout
consumers did receive a few thousand dollars, though, so
itís definitely worth the extra time to fill out an
important point to know about the Michigan program: You
need the Social Security number of the deceased to do
the online search.
said some people have put in all zeros when they donít
know a Social Security number, but she suggests looking
at the death certificate to find that number. Without a
Social Security number, a request in Michigan wonít be
forwarded to insurers or processed.
the last two years, more than 2,000 requests have been
submitted to insurance companies participating in the
search program in Michigan. The program has helped match
more than 1,400 policies.
than 370 licensed life insurance and annuity companies
voluntarily participate in the Michigan program.
life insurance companies will respond directly to
someone only if the insurers have reason to believe that
they have a policy or annuity contract in the name of
the deceased. And youíd need to be the designated
beneficiary or someone who is authorized to receive such
can do free searches via 29 state insurance departments.
State insurance departments do not have records of
specific insurance policies. But the departments can
assist consumers in finding lost policies for the
deceased. In Michigan, information from requests is
regularly forwarded to insurers participating in the
National Association of Insurance Commissioners, a group
of state regulators, helps locate lost policies for
those who believe they are beneficiaries, as well as
executors, through its "Life Insurance Policy
Locator." See www.naic.org and click on
the national system works with insurance companies that
have voluntarily agreed to participate. States that
maintain their own systems include Illinois, Michigan,
North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Louisiana and Oregon.
you think a policy might have been purchased in Canada,
contact the Canadian Ombudservice for Life and Health
Insurance for information. Click on "Policy of a
the searches are free. The answers arenít immediate
and could take a few months before youíre notified.
if you think youíve found one policy, it could be
worth doing a search.
my dad died, my mother filed a claim on his life
insurance policy in 2001. But somehow another policy
fell through the cracks with the same insurer. And we
didnít even discover that policy that my father held
until after my mother died 10 years later. It was one
incredible, ridiculous effort and it felt like an
amazing victory to finally receive that very modest
should be far easier now.
No. 3: Check with the stateís Unclaimed Property
a life insurance company knows that an insured client
has died but canít find the beneficiary, the insurer
must turn the death benefit over to the state where the
policy was purchased.
the National Association of Unclaimed Property
Administrators or www.unclaimed.org to do a search. Youíre
able to find the state via the site. If you can guess
where the policy was bought, you can contact the state
to see if it has any unclaimed money from life insurance
policies belonging to the deceased.
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Michigan, you can look for unclaimed insurance policies,
as well as lost or forgotten money from dormant bank
accounts, uncashed checks, valuables left in safe
deposit boxes and stock certificates. Go to
www.michigan.gov/treasury and click "Unclaimed
itís worth it to take the time reviewing unclaimed
property databases even when someone hasnít died. Over
the years when Iíve looked, I found an uncashed
paycheck for my brother-in-law, as well as more
unclaimed cash for co-workers.