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Claiming life insurance

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Posted: 3 pm ET

Estate planning is an important part of retirement planning. My mother-in-law died in January, and we're still struggling with closing the estate. The holdup is her late husband's life insurance policy.

He died a couple of years before she fell ill, but she never claimed the proceeds of the policy -- probably because it wasn't easy to do. My mother-in-law was frugal and lived on very little in retirement. I know she knew the policy existed because my husband, who is in the insurance business, located the phone number for her to call and helped her find the information she would need to make the claim shortly after her husband died. But it didn't happen, probably because she didn't feel like she needed the money, and pushing for a resolution wasn't a pleasant task for her.

Now, three years later, she's dead and claiming her husband's life insurance is startlingly difficult -- even for somebody like my husband who works in the insurance industry.

I'm writing this after reading about a study commissioned by Nationwide Insurance that concluded that 70 percent of its policyholders are confident their beneficiaries would know how to file a claim. The policy I'm talking about wasn't a Nationwide policy, but it was from a major insurer.

Peter Golato, senior vice president of individual protection for Nationwide Financial, offers these suggestions for making sure your heirs get their money:

  • Talk with the person that you plan to name as a beneficiary before you purchase a policy.
  • Show beneficiaries where policy information is located.
  • If you purchased your policy through an agent, make sure that your beneficiary knows who the agent is and has that person's contact information.
  • Ensure that your insurance company has up-to-date contact information for your beneficiaries.

This final piece of advice may seem unnecessary, but in my mother-in-law's case, it obviously wasn't. If you are named a beneficiary on someone else's policy, don't put off claiming your money -- even if navigating the process of putting through the claim is frustrating. Ask for help from the agent, your attorney or whoever else is handling the estate. Letting the matter slide won't make it any easier, and allowing the insurer to keep the money is absolutely the wrong thing to do.

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