Life insurance provides financial protection for loved ones after the policyholder passes away, but it only helps if collected. Benefits sometimes go unclaimed. In general, life insurance companies perform proactive searches to find and inform beneficiaries who are named in a matured policy. However, this isn’t always the case, and sometimes the search isn’t successful. If you suspect you may have unclaimed life insurance benefits slated for you, you may be able to track down a policy and potentially collect what’s been left to you. Bankrate explains how.

Key takeaways

  • Searching for policy paperwork, using a missing policy locator, searching for the insurance company and checking with rating services can all help locate unclaimed life insurance.
  • The Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits Act is helping prevent matured policies from going unclaimed.
  • You can prevent unclaimed life insurance policies by asking about or informing loved ones about the details of an existing policy.

How to find an unclaimed life insurance policy

Many people take time to set up life insurance policies to ensure their loved ones are cared for after their passing, in which case a common question might be, “How do I find out if I am a beneficiary on a life insurance policy?” If you suspect a relative who passed away may indeed have purchased a policy and named you as the beneficiary, try these steps to conduct an unclaimed or lost life insurance policy search. You will need the full legal name of your relative, and it helps to have their date of birth, Social Security number and any former addresses. Follow these steps to maximize your chances of finding an unclaimed life insurance policy.

Search for insurance policy paperwork

You may be able to find insurance policy paperwork — including premium payment receipts or bank statements showing an automatic deduction — more easily if the person passed away recently. Also check address books or electronic devices (if you have access) for any insurance-related transactions or communication.

If you’re the executor of the deceased’s estate, check through safe-deposit boxes and personal files that may store the paperwork. You could also visit the bank of the deceased to request paper statements if you have power of attorney. This will allow you to see who premiums were paid to if you don’t have access to the deceased’s online bank account.

Turn to a missing policy locator

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Life Insurance Policy Locator Service and similar services allow consumers who believe they are the beneficiary of a life insurance policy to submit a life insurance policy search by name and request to have insurers check their files. These systems can serve as an unclaimed life insurance database for individuals that need a starting point for retrieving policy information.

Search for the insurance company

If you find evidence of a policy and can identify the insurance company, most of your work is done. Beneficiaries who can’t locate the insurance company listed on a policy should contact their state’s insurance department.

If you know the insurance company, follow its steps to file a claim. Provided you give all the information and the insurance company approves your claim, the company will typically provide payment in a timely manner.

Make sure you’re looking in the correct state

You need to know where the policy was purchased. The state where the decedent passed may not be the same state they purchased the life insurance policy. Check in any prior states the person may have lived in to find an unclaimed life insurance policy. Once you’ve located the correct state, you can use its Department of Insurance (DOI) site, which contains tools to search for insurance policies.

If the insurance company went out of business, the DOI should have records of what happened to the policies.

Check with rating services

If you’ve found the insurance policy’s paperwork, but can’t seem to find the insurance company itself to track an unclaimed life insurance policy, you may want to check with rating services to find it. An insurance rating agency, such as AM Best, could help you track insurers, including those that are defunct.

Search for a financial connection

A financial connection would be a professional who handled the deceased’s finances. This could be an accountant, financial planner or insurance agent. A professional working in financial services would likely have knowledge of a life insurance policy, and may even have a copy of it proving you’re the beneficiary and provide policy details. You’ll likely have to provide information to verify your identity or prove that you’re the executor or have power of attorney for the deceased before the financial professional releases the information.

Search unclaimed property files, a database endorsed by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), allows you to search for unclaimed property in most states. The NAUPA maintains a web tool for searching through unclaimed matured life insurance policies. To start the search, all you need is the name, city and state where the deceased lived and you can conduct the research online.

Contact the deceased’s former employers

Most life insurance policies purchased through employers are term policies that provide coverage only during the time of employment, but sometimes an individual will continue the policy after leaving the company. You might want to check with former employers, labor unions or professional associations to see which company the deceased had life insurance with so you can contact the insurer directly.

Many companies won’t provide specific information pertaining to employees outside of when they worked there and their position, so asking what life insurance company they use is a way around this.

Pay for a search of the MIB database

The Medical Information Bureau (MIB) is a database created by life insurance companies to exchange confidential coded data about medical conditions and risk factors. It may also help you track down a life insurance policy which names you as the beneficiary. Although an MIB database search costs $75, it may be money well spent if you are certain there is an unclaimed life insurance policy that names you as a beneficiary.

Once you find the insurance company, contact them to see if the policy is still active. If it is, the insurer has steps you can follow to file a claim. 

The Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits Act

Although not available in every state, the Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits Act aims to help fill the knowledge gap between life insurance companies and the government’s official documentation of deceased citizens. It requires that life insurance companies compare their records to the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Death Master File to ensure that the company is aware of any policyholders that may be deceased. This act aims to encourage the proper transition of unclaimed life insurance benefits into the hands of the appropriate beneficiaries. If beneficiaries cannot be found after a set number of years, the insurance company must transfer any unclaimed benefits to the state’s department of revenue as unclaimed property.

This act can potentially help beneficiaries of life insurance policies by reducing the number of unclaimed policies and accelerating the process of discovering when a life insurance policy has matured. Often, notifying a life insurance company has fallen upon the deceased’s family. This act allows for an alternative that puts the onus of information back upon the insurer. With the SSA’s Death Master file for comparison, insurers are less likely to remain unaware of the death of a policyholder.

This law is not in effect in all states, as some have yet to sign it into state law. However, even in states where this act is not signed into law, many insurers have chosen to comply with its requirements. Check your state regulations on the DOI website to see if your state has passed this act.

How to prevent unclaimed life insurance policies

While the deceased cannot provide you with information on their insurance policies, you can take actions to prevent the same from occurring in the future.

If you are covered by life insurance, tell your loved ones that you have a policy so they don’t miss out on your death benefit if you pass away. Provide details about the policy, like the insurance company, policy number and coverage amount. Give your insurance company as much detail as possible about your beneficiaries, including names, addresses and Social Security numbers, to make it easier for the insurance company to find them. It’s also a good idea to store life insurance paperwork in a secure place so family members have access to it when they need it.

Frequently asked questions

    • After a certain number of years as defined by each state, insurance companies must turn over unclaimed life insurance money to the state government. Some states are placing pressure on life insurance companies to pay out unclaimed death benefits. Because of this, insurance companies routinely use Social Security data to check to see if policyholders are still alive. When they find out that an insured passed away, they’ll do research to try to find the beneficiaries.
    • How long a beneficiary has to claim a life insurance policy may vary by state or life insurance company. Once a claim is filed, the insurance company must review the claim within 30 days in most states. By the end of the 30 days, the insurer will either have to ask for more information, or approve or deny the beneficiary claim.
    • To find out if a life insurance policy is valid, you can check with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Using the NAIC Life Policy Locator, you can submit a request with the legal name, date of birth, Social Security number and date of death for the deceased person to find a life insurance policy or annuity.