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How to track unclaimed life insurance money

Make sure you're looking in the correct state. You need to know where the policy was purchased. "Even if your relative died in Ohio, they might have lived in Illinois when they bought life insurance," Blyskal says.

If the insurance company went out of business, the state insurance commissioner should have records on what happened to the policies, Weisbart says.

Check with rating services. An insurance rating agency, such as A.M. Best Co., also should have information to help you track insurers, including those that are defunct, says Weisbart.

Search for a financial connection. "If your relative worked with an insurance agent, accountant or financial planner, that person may know what insurance company a life insurance policy was with, even if (the professional) didn't have anything to do with that particular policy," says Weisbart.

Look for a missing policy locator in your state. Cornman says these services, typically part of the state insurance office, allow consumers who believe they are the beneficiary of a life insurance policy purchased in that state to submit a request to have life insurance companies located there to check their files.

Search unclaimed property files. "Each state has different rules about when leftover insurance benefits need to be sent to an unclaimed property office, but eventually unclaimed funds will be sent there," says Cornman. MissingMoney.com, a database endorsed by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, allows you to search for unclaimed property in most states.

"You should check in the state where you think the policy was purchased, under the name of the policyholder and the name of the beneficiary," Blyskal says.

Check with a former employer. According to Blyskal, most insurance policies purchased through an employer are term policies that provide coverage only during the time of employment, but sometimes an individual will continue the policy. He suggests making inquiries with former employers, labor unions or professional associations.

Pay for a search of the MIB database. This is a cooperative database (which once stood for Medical Information Bureau) created by life insurance companies to keep track of insurance applications. "I wouldn't recommend doing this first, but if you're pretty certain there's an insurance policy out there that belongs to you, you can pay a $75 fee for a search," says Weisbart.

Take away a lesson

While it's too late for your deceased relatives to provide you with information on their insurance policies, maybe they have provided a good learning opportunity so the next generation will be spared from hunting down unclaimed life insurance.

Weisbart says if you're insured, "Tell your family members that you have a life insurance policy. Give your insurance company as much detail as possible about your beneficiaries, including their name, address and Social Security number, to make it easier for the insurance company to find them."

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