Maybe you’ve been named executor of the estate of your very wealthy but very disorganized uncle. Or maybe your relative’s valuable papers have been destroyed or lost in a fire, flood or move. In either case, you know a life insurance policy exists somewhere but you can’t find it. What can you do?
Life insurers want to pay the benefits they owe when a policyholder dies. But they can’t unless they know about the death. The policy’s beneficiary or executor of the policyholder’s estate must file a claim for benefits. If you are a beneficiary or executor and have the policy, it will include the insurer’s contact information. You can also look on the insurer’s website.
If you don’t have a copy of the policy, things get trickier. Every state has laws that “escheat” unclaimed assets to the state—in other words, if the owner of a bank account or policy beneficiary cannot be found, those funds revert to the state for safekeeping until the owner can be found. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators estimates that state treasuries and other agencies are safeguarding at least $58 billion in unclaimed funds. That includes bank accounts, life insurance policies and other financial accounts.
Although states are required to attempt to find owners of these unclaimed assets, their efforts might be limited to publishing a name in a list. If you believe a family member had a life insurance policy that might benefit you, don’t rely on the state to find you.
The ACLI (American Council of Life Insurers) recommends taking these first steps to find a missing life insurance policy:
- Check your family member’s papers, address and telephone books to look for life insurance policies or the names of insurance agents. Contact every insurance company with which they had a policy, even if you’re not sure it is still in force.
- Check with the employee benefits office at their latest and previous places of employment. Or, check with the union welfare office.
- Check bank books and canceled checks for the last few years to see if any checks may have been written to pay life insurance premiums.
- Check the mail for a year after the death for premium notices, which usually are sent annually. If a policy has been paid up, there will not be any notice of premium payments due. However, the company may still send an annual notice regarding the status of the policy or it may pay or send notice of a dividend.
- Review your family member’s income tax returns for the past two years. Look for interest income from and interest expenses paid to life insurance companies. Life insurance companies pay interest on accumulations on permanent policies and charge interest on policy loans.
- Check with the state’s unclaimed property office to see if any unclaimed money from life insurance policies may have been turned over to the state. If, after a number of years, an insurance company holding the unclaimed money cannot find the rightful owner, it turns the money over to the state.
- Contact life insurance companies directly to see if a policy exists. Each state insurance department has a listing of life insurance companies licensed to do business in its state.
If your search fails to turn up a policy, the ACLI recommends contacting MIB Solutions, an insurance industry-owned corporation that provides statistical and other information for insurers. Executors or administrators of a decedent’s estate can order a report of life insurance application activity. If no executor or administrator has been appointed, then a surviving spouse or the decedent’s closest surviving relative may be eligible to order the report. The Policy Locator Service may allow you to discover life insurance policies that you did not know existed.
For a fee of $75, MIB checks the decedent’s name against its database of more than 200 million records on individually underwritten life insurance applications in the U.S. and Canada. It reports a 30 percent success rate. Note that MIB’s database does not include coverage issued under a group plan or policies written more than 12 years ago. If you are looking for an older policy and suspect it might have a high death benefit, you might wish to contract for a manual search.
For more information on locating a lost policy, contact MIB.
For more information on life insurance, please contact us.