Use these strategies if a loved one dies and you’re not sure whether he or she had a policy–from a Q&A of Kim Lankford of Kiplinger.com
Q: My sister-in-law passed away recently. We thought she had a life insurance policy, but we’ve searched through her papers and can’t find one. Is there a way to find out if she still had a policy and, if so, with what company?
There isn’t a centralized database for tracking down life insurance policies, but you can use several strategies, and a few new resources, to help with your investigation.
Searching through her papers is a good first step (obviously, you must be her legal representative or an approved family member to do so). Look in her bank records and canceled checks for premium payments, and check her tax returns for evidence of any taxable withdrawals or dividends, which can help you find the insurer. Also look through her address books for contact information for a life insurance agent, financial planner, accountant, attorney or other adviser and ask if the adviser knows about a life insurance policy. Contact each insurer with whom she had other types of policies and ask if she had life insurance there, too. And keep an eye on the mail for any premium notices.
If your sister-in-law was working at the time of her death, contact her company’s employee benefits office — she might have had some workplace coverage. Check with former employers as well to see if she purchased voluntary, extra coverage and kept it after she left the job.
If your initial search fails to produce results, contact the insurance department in the states where she lived (see the National Association of Insurance Commissioners map for state-regulator contact information) . Several states plus Puerto Rico have new resources to help people track down lost life insurance policies, including Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Oregon. Programs are also being developed in Rhode Island and Texas.
Missouri’s Policy Locator Service, for example, helps track down information about both life insurance policies and annuities purchased in Missouri. Executors and legal representatives of the deceased person, and people who believe they may be beneficiaries, may submit a notarized search-request form with an original death certificate. Requests are forwarded to Missouri-licensed life insurance companies within 30 days, and if a policy is located, the insurer will contact the beneficiary. Since its launch in November 2011, the service has located a total of $148,000 for beneficiaries.
If a state doesn’t have a special program to find lost life insurance, it may still have resources that can help you with your search. Ask the state insurance department for contact information for life insurers licensed to do business in the state, and contact the companies yourself. The insurance department can also help you find current contact information for insurers that may have merged since your sister-in-law bought a policy.
A state’s unclaimed-property office may eventually get the money if an insurer knows a person has died but is unable to contact the beneficiaries. You can search unclaimed-property databases for several states at MissingMoney.com or find links to each state’s unclaimed-property division through http://www.unclaimed.org/ the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. See 4 Ways to Get Lost Money From Government Agencies for more information about tracking down money in the states’ unclaimed-property databases.
The Medical Information Bureau’s Policy Locator Service can also help. Insurers who are members of the MIB share general medical and other information they discover during underwriting about applicants for life insurance policies. The service tracks applications for individual policies made to member companies since 1996. (Although most life insurers are members, the service doesn’t track group policies.)
Not everyone can get the information. You must be the executor of the deceased’s estate or the surviving spouse; if there is neither an executor nor a spouse, the child of the deceased or another eligible representative may make the request. Whoever makes the inquiry must provide an original death certificate.
The service costs $75 and takes about ten days to produce a report. If your sister-in-law applied for life insurance at any of the member companies, the report will include the company’s name, the date the application was submitted and information about how to contact the insurer. The insurer can then tell you if the policy was actually issued, whether it remains in force and who the beneficiary is.
While you’re tracking down your sister-in-law’s life insurance policy, remember to keep good records yourself so you can spare your heirs the same hassle. The American Council of Life Insurers recently introduced a new My Insurance Log tool that helps people pass key information about insurance policies and retirement plans to their beneficiaries and personal representatives. Also be sure to keep the beneficiary contact information up-to-date with your insurers, which will make it easy for them track down your heirs.
Another good resource is the NYS Office of Unclaimed Funds.