It is not unusual to lose track of a life insurance policy. After all, Americans currently have more than 290 million policies in force, making life insurance more than the 270 million registered vehicles on our roads.
Unlike our cars, life insurance can understandably be forgotten when you consider that some people have insurance that lasts for 10, 20 or even 30 years. After years of raising children, buying a house and other big milestones, the paperwork or login information can get lost in the shuffle of life.
Because the insured is usually the person paying the premium, it can leave many beneficiaries unaware of coverage or in a situation where they don̵7;t know where to get the proceeds of a life insurance policy (otherwise known as a death benefit.)
And while most insurance companies have systems in place to help locate beneficiaries when a policyholder passes away, there are some simple tricks to keep in mind should you need to track down a lost life insurance policy.
Where to look for a lost policy
If there is a policy in force, the policyholder has paid premiums, so you may be able to find records of these transactions on bank statements, whether online or printed. This is one of the easiest ways to find unclaimed life insurance after a loved one passes away.
Search monthly transactions for clues about which insurer to contact. For example, customers with a Haven Term policy, issued by MassMutual or its subsidiary, CM Life, will have the bill from their bank account show up as “MASSMUTUAL/HAVEN INSPREMIUM…” each month.
If the search results do not show any information about which insurer to contact, you should still go through the transactions line by line to make sure you are not overlooking anything. If the policyholder paid the premiums annually, you may need to go through a couple of years of transactions to see when the payment was made.
Once you have found the name of the life insurance issuer, you can get in touch with its customer service or claims department. Even if you don’t have a policy number, be sure to have the policyholder’s social security number and other identifying information, such as date of birth, address and phone number. To streamline the process, the beneficiary should be the one to file the claim.
Check with financial advisors, lawyers and employers
What if the policyholder recently changed banks and had not paid a premium since the new account was opened? In that case, bank details may not help and you may need to dig a little deeper.
Check with the policyholder’s employer if he or she had life insurance coverage included as an employment benefit. The premiums for employer-provided coverage may be included as part of company benefits or billed through payroll deduction, which may explain why bank records do not include transactions for premiums.
Most insurance companies have processes in place to help
Even if you can’t find any information about a life insurance policy in personal financial records, there are still several factors working in your favor. One of them is the insurer itself. When insurers learn of a policyholder’s death (through third-party scanning services that exist), most have procedures in place to begin trying to locate the policyholder. (Our parent company, MassMutual, does.)
It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the law—insurers must scan the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (or a similar database) at least twice a year, and make good faith efforts to track down the beneficiaries of someone listed. (MassMutual does it more often.)
There is also a financial incentive for insurance companies to pay the beneficiary the death benefit as soon as possible. This is because different government interest rates are added the longer the claim remains unpaid.
Contact government resources
Even with an insurer’s best efforts, it is not always possible to find a beneficiary. In such cases, the insurer transfers the payment to the state where the policy was issued. Normally, the money goes to the government’s office for unclaimed properties.
You can find your state in this national database of unclaimed real estate offices. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) also offers a lost insurance service. It can take a few months for unclaimed estate databases to show results, so submitting a request is most useful if it’s been a while since the deceased person passed away.
The insurance industry also keeps track of policies through the Medical Information Bureau, or MIB. The agency offers online tools to track a lost policy if it’s medically underwritten, which is the type many term and permanent life insurance buyers have.
Ways to avoid losing track of a policy
There are few occasions in life more heartbreaking or stressful than the death of a loved one. If you have life insurance coverage, or if you’re looking for insurance, there are many steps you can take now to ensure that things go smoothly for your beneficiary should something happen to you.
Have a conversation
Start by talking to your family about your coverage so they know which insurer you’ve chosen and how to file a claim. Life insurance touches on topics like finances and death that are sensitive to some people, so it’s easy to put off such discussions. But it’s also an important conversation because it can make it easier for your beneficiary to file a claim if you died unexpectedly and your loved one needed the coverage as quickly as possible.
As with all other important financial documents and logins, you should keep life insurance and information in a central, secure and organized place for your partner or beneficiary.
Some prefer the pen-and-paper approach, writing down account numbers and keeping policy documents in an office folder, or even a safe, for safekeeping. Others use digital folders to maintain and store updated passwords and policy forms.
Your preferred method is not as important as simply making sure you have some sort of organized way for your loved ones to easily access accounts and assets should you die suddenly. And remember to update your information at least annually.
Make your plans known
Creating a will or estate plan is another way to help your survivors locate your assets as efficiently as possible. If you have a partner, children or assets that you want to leave to a friend or loved one, then it is imperative that you have a living will. Contact an attorney who specializes in estate planning to begin this process.
These documents address important matters when you die and specify who can make financial and medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make them yourself. Typically, you don’t want to rely on the laws of your home country to make these decisions for you.
Life insurance gives reason to worry less
Life insurance policies are popular because of the peace of mind they offer the insured. With reliable coverage in place, you can stop worrying about how your family would survive financially if the unthinkable happened and you died far too soon. Instead, you know you’ve done what you can to protect your family financially even during challenging times.
So if you have coverage in effect, or if you’re looking for coverage, tell your beneficiary or beneficiaries. Write down your policy information. Hopefully they’ll never need to use your coverage, but at least you both have the peace of mind knowing it’s there.
If you have lost a family member who had life insurance in effect, know that there are systems and resources in place to help you find insurance or for the insurer to assist you.
About Brittney Burgett
Brittney Burgett is the director of marketing and communications at Haven Life, a customer-centric life insurance agency supported and wholly owned by MassMutual. She joined the startup more than five years ago as one of the first ten employees and oversees external communications, content, SEO and various other growth marketing initiatives. Brittney is a passionate leader who believes that managing your financial life doesn’t have to be scary or complicated and brings that philosophy to all editorial and branding work at Haven Life. Prior to her role at Haven Life, Brittney worked in PR, her client list included technology, food and business brands.
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