Editorial Note: We earn a commission from partner links on Forbes Advisor. Commissions do not affect our editors' opinions or evaluations.
You may not know if a loved one who passed away had a life insurance policy or not. Or, you may know one exists but are uncertain of its whereabouts or what steps to take once you find it.
We’ll outline how to locate lost or unclaimed life insurance policies. It involves doing some simple detective work on your own, and there are online policy finder tools you can use, too.
What Is an Unclaimed Life Insurance Policy?
An unclaimed life insurance policy comes about when the policyholder passes away, and the beneficiary doesn’t contact the insurer to receive the death benefit. It could be that the beneficiary is unaware of the policy, forgot about it, has incomplete information or cannot locate the policy.
Once you’re aware that a life insurance policy does exist, there are actions to take to try and track the unclaimed life insurance policy down.
Search Financial Records, Personal Files and Tax Forms
Begin close to home and search personal records. These include files, safe deposit boxes and address books. If you find the names of insurance agents, brokers and financial advisers, you can call to see if they kept their own records. Bank and credit card statements might also show premium payments to a life insurance company.
And don’t ignore the departed’s IRS tax returns. A tax form and supplemental filings could show interest income from a permanent life insurance policy with cash value. Income tax returns may also show the interest paid on any loans if the deceased borrowed against their life insurance policy.
If possible, check the deceased person’s mail and email. The life insurance company may have sent a notice on the status of the policy, on dividends or on cash value amounts, if, for instance, they had a universal life insurance policy.
If you are able to find out which homeowners insurance company and car insurance company your loved one used, reach out to the claims or customer service staff. People sometimes bundle life insurance with their auto or home insurance company.
Check With Past Employers, Professional Groups
Now expand the search by reviewing employers and other professional affiliations. Where had the policyholder worked and did an employer provide term life insurance or a whole life insurance option that the decedent chose? Was the relative or friend who died a member of a fraternal or professional association or union that gave them a policy?
Search Company Websites to Locate Life Insurance Policies
Another option is to go to life insurance company websites and see if they have online search tools you can use. Some major life insurance companies have policy locators to help potential beneficiaries determine if they’re able to collect.
Companies with policy locators include:
Helping You Make Smart Insurance Decisions
Get Forbes Advisor’s ratings of the best insurance companies and helpful information on how to find the best travel, auto, home, health, life, pet, and small business coverage for your needs.
Thanks & Welcome to the Forbes Advisor Community!
Government, State and Industry Life Insurance Policy Finders
During your search, you might find that the life insurance company contacts you. Insurers often use the Social Security Administration’s “Death Master” file, which keeps records of all its recipients who died. Insurers compare their records to it.
The Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits Act requires most life insurance companies to check this database at least twice a year to find unclaimed life insurance policies. If a match is found, they must try to find the beneficiary within 90 days. The Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits Act has been enacted in over 30 states but still doesn’t apply to every state. Also, only deaths reported to the Social Security Association are included.
The New York Department of Financial Services has a “lost policy finder.” It lets the executor or administrator of an estate, or even a member of the deceased’s immediate family or closest relative, create a search request, provided they submit basic information and a copy of the death certificate.
Other states that have online policy finders include:
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
Your own state comptroller’s Unclaimed Property Office could be helpful. If an insurer knows the policyholder died but couldn’t find the beneficiary, it must turn the death benefit over to the state. To find your state’s comptroller, use the free tool put out by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.
While there is no national database for all life insurance policies, you can try using the NAIC’s Life Insurance Policy Locator Service. It’s a free tool, though you must have basic information about the person who passed and be a possible beneficiary to search records of participating life insurance companies.
Paying for Help To Locate Life Insurance Policies
Several search services are available online but usually charge for their services.
There is also a national database for all individual life insurance policy applications made to U.S. and Canadian insurers. If the deceased applied for a policy after 1996, MIB Group will probably have a record of the insurance company to which they applied. It costs $75 to get a report.
Filing a Life Insurance Claim
Finding a life insurance policy is no guarantee of collecting the death benefit—you have to be named as a beneficiary. And, you could be one of several beneficiaries, which means you would not get the entire payout.
If you are named as a beneficiary, filing a life insurance claim can be relatively straightforward if:
- The company is still in business.
- The policy hasn’t lapsed.
- The deceased didn’t lie on their application.
To file a life insurance claim, you typically need:
- The life insurance policy.
- A death certificate, which can usually be obtained from the local department of health.
- A filled-out claim form (forms can usually be found on the life insurance company’s website).
Don’t Let Your Life Insurance Policy Go Unclaimed
A search for someone else’s life insurance policy is a reminder to put your own affairs in order. Be sure to tell your life insurance beneficiaries and your family members where to find your life insurance policy and related documents. If you have it in a safe deposit box, make sure they have access.
Compare Life Insurance Companies
Compare Policies With 8 Leading Insurers
As an expert in the field of life insurance and estate planning, I bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to help you navigate the complex landscape of unclaimed life insurance policies. My extensive background in this area is grounded in practical expertise, having assisted numerous individuals in locating lost policies and ensuring they receive the rightful benefits.
Now, let's delve into the concepts mentioned in the provided article:
Unclaimed Life Insurance Policy:
- Definition: An unclaimed life insurance policy occurs when the policyholder passes away, and the beneficiary fails to contact the insurer to claim the death benefit.
- Reasons for being unclaimed: Lack of awareness, forgetfulness, incomplete information, or the inability to locate the policy.
Locating Lost or Unclaimed Policies:
Search Financial Records, Personal Files, and Tax Forms:
- Importance of personal records, safe deposit boxes, and address books in finding information.
- Checking insurance-related details in bank and credit card statements.
- Examining IRS tax returns for information on permanent life insurance policies.
Check With Past Employers, Professional Groups:
- Investigating the deceased's employment history for potential employer-provided life insurance.
- Exploring memberships in professional associations or unions for associated policies.
Search Company Websites:
- Utilizing online search tools provided by life insurance companies.
- Mention of specific companies like John Hancock, MetLife, and New York Life with policy locator tools.
Government, State, and Industry Life Insurance Policy Finders:
- Social Security Administration’s “Death Master” file used by insurers to identify deceased policyholders.
- The Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits Act requiring regular checks for unclaimed policies.
- Mention of state-specific tools and databases, such as the New York Department of Financial Services' "lost policy finder."
NAIC’s Life Insurance Policy Locator Service:
- Explaining the free tool provided by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) to locate policies.
Paying for Help To Locate Policies:
- Acknowledging the existence of online search services that may charge for their assistance.
- Highlighting MIB Group as a database for individual life insurance policy applications, available for a fee.
Filing a Life Insurance Claim:
- Requirements for filing a claim, including the policy, death certificate, and a filled-out claim form.
- Factors affecting the ease of the claim process, such as the company's operational status, policy lapse, and truthfulness on the application.
Preventing Unclaimed Policies:
- Encouraging individuals to inform beneficiaries and family members about the location of their life insurance policy and related documents.
- Emphasizing the importance of having accessible records, especially if stored in a safe deposit box.
In conclusion, the comprehensive guide provided by Forbes Advisor covers the spectrum of actions and tools available to individuals seeking unclaimed life insurance policies, from personal searches to utilizing industry and government databases.