Dear Dr. Don,
My husband passed away in July 2007. He always said he had a $10,000 life insurance policy and every year he got a letter about it asking if he wanted to change anything. He left the policy as is, but this year I never received a letter.

I think the policy was from Rush Metal Products which was sold to Cartesian Corp. in Lafayette, Ind. I have called the company and was told all of the Rush Metal Products papers were stored in the basement. Thus, I didn’t get any help from them. What do I do now?


Esther Enquiry


Dear Esther,
While this is water under the bridge in your situation, I want to start out with a reminder to readers to keep a notebook with all your financial information written down in a place known to your family members. Don’t force them to become amateur detectives in trying to figure out your finances.

Keep a notebook with a listing of your bank accounts, brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, pension rights, insurance policies, etc., along with a note letting heirs know where to find an executed copy of your will. It is important to keep this list current.

This is an act of kindness on your part. Let your loved ones spend their time dealing with their grief, not chasing down an account. If you don’t have a will yet, get one. If you have an existing will, make sure it’s updated. Bankrate’s Financial Literacy series on
estate planning can help you get up to date.

Because Rush Metal Products wasn’t an insurance company, the life insurance policy was part of its benefits package for current and retired employees. Assuming the policy was still in force when your husband died, and that you were the beneficiary, you should be able to track down the insurance company and get the death benefit.

Contacting some of your husband’s former co-workers or their families could help you find out the insurance company that provided the coverage. Presumably, those families get the same annual letters that your husband did. Once you know the name of the insurance company, you can contact them directly about the policy.

The human resource person at Cartesian may also be able to help you with the name of the insurance company without necessarily trudging to the basement to go through the files. However, feel free to cajole them into making the trip if you can.

Some insurers, like New York Life Insurance Co., let you initiate a request for missing policyholder information online with its
Unclaimed Funds Finder. If this approach doesn’t work, then MIB Solutions, an insurance industry organization, provides
a policy locator service for a $75 fee.

Life insurance policies are seldom found in searches of state unclaimed property sites. That’s because insurance companies hold the funds until they have no reasonable expectation that the insured is living. Only then does the policy value get transferred from the company to the state as unclaimed property. This transfer typically takes place three years after the insurer knows the insured has died.

Thanks to Burton T. Beam Jr., an associate professor of insurance at The American College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., for his help in framing this reply.

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