The death of a loved one can be extremely difficult from an emotional standpoint, but also presents certain financial and logistical challenges.
It is often the responsibility of surviving family members to make final arrangements and settle the decedent’s estate, which includes identifying and filing claims on any active life insurance policies.
Given these often-unexpected responsibilities it is understandable that family members may have challenges in determining how to find a life insurance policy exists.
This article, How to Find a Life Insurance Policy Exists (Including Online Search Resources), provides actionable information concerning how to find a decedent’s life insurance policy and other life insurance basics.
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How to Find a Life Insurance Policy Exists
The days, weeks, and months after the death of a loved one can be an extremely challenging and emotional time on a variety of levels. In addition to the understandable grief experienced, there are also a seemingly overwhelming number of decisions and responsibilities for the person designated to settle the decedent’s person’s affairs.
As a part of settling the estate it is important to determine whether there were any active life insurance policies inforce. This may sound simple but can be quite difficult if no one was aware of the policy and/or there are no obvious policy documents. Adding to this challenge is the fact that there is no comprehensive database of inforce life insurance contracts. The following tips are intended to be helpful pointers in how to find a life insurance policy exists.
As a disclaimer, the information presented is intended for individual(s) designated as executors, administrators, beneficiaries or others legally authorized to policy information.
Tip #1 – Search Personal Effects for Insurance Documents
In many instances, locating a life insurance policy is as simple as searching for policy contracts, premium notices, payment receipts, annual statements, or other related documents.
Given the importance of policy documents individuals often place them in personal files, lock boxes, safety deposit boxes, or other secure locations.
In addition to physical storage locations you should check digital storage files, such as computer hard drives and cloud-based storage accounts. It can also a good idea to check both the decedent’s regular mail and email for a year or so after their passing since insurance companies often provide annual policy statements and/or tax documents if applicable.
Tip #2 – Review Statements from Financial Institutions
It has been said that you can learn a lot about a person by how they spend their money. This sage adage also holds true when searching for a deceased loved one’s life insurance policy.
A quick review of their bank, brokerage, and other account statements may reveal payments to insurance companies for premiums or deposits dividends, policy loans, or other payments.
If you identify payment or deposit activity from a life insurance company this may indicate the existence of an active life insurance or annuity policy.
Additionally, it may be beneficial to reach out directly to financial institutions where your loved one did business to inquire about life insurance coverage associated with their account. In many instances, institutions offer complementary or low-cost coverage to savings, checking, or credit card account holders. The Bank Branch Locator is a free resource which can be helpful in locating national and regional banks.
Tip #3 – Contact Insurance, Financial, Legal, and other Advisors
In reaching out to financial services providers it makes sense to first contact the decedent’s insurance agent(s) or broker(s) to inquire about any inforce life insurance policies.
This outreach should also include contacting auto and homeowner’s insurance agents to inquire about possible supplemental life insurance policies that may exist.
With that said, the process of planning for an individual’s financial security rarely happens in a vacuum. In other words, there are often a number of financial, legal, and other professionals involved or at least consulted. Current or previous accountants, attorneys, financial planners, or other service providers may be able to assist in determining how to find a life insurance policy exits.
In order to identify and locate these professionals, please refer to Tip #1 related to searching personal effects for evidence of service providers. Also, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) BrokerCheck may be used to research financial broker and advisors, while the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Lawyer Licensing site is a great resource for locating licensed attorneys.
Tip #4 – Review Benefits from Employers and Associations
Insurance and other benefits are often associated with an individual’s employment or membership in certain civic or professional organizations.
It is common for a company’s employees, or an association’s members, to receive complementary or low-cost life insurance. In many instances, employees may have purchased supplemental coverage or signed up for survivor benefit plans such as those available to military retirees.
For this reason, it is important to contact the decedent’s current or previous employers, unions, professional associations, membership organizations, or other groups with which they may have been involved. Also, if the decedent was married it is a good idea to reach out to the spouse’s current or former employer to inquire as to whether spousal coverage was inforce.
To aide in your search, The Department of Labor’s Professional Association Finder is a great resource for locating professional associations, while the Internal Revenue Services’ (IRS) Tax Exempt Organization Search can be helpful in identifying non-profit membership organizations.
Tip #5 – Search the NAIC Life Insurance Policy Locator
As previously mentioned, there is no comprehensive database containing information on all inforce life insurance policies.
However, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) has created a no-cost Life Insurance Policy Locator Service to assist consumers in locating life insurance and annuity contracts of deceased family members.
When a policy locator request is initiated the NAIC will forward your inquiry to participating life insurance companies nationwide who will in turn search policy records for an active contract in the name of the decedent. This process can take up to 90 business days, and you will only receive a response if a participating insurance company locates a policy.
Though participation in this service is voluntary for insurance companies, many insurers are more than willing to assist possible beneficiaries in their search.There are also a number of state insurance departments that offer free policy search services to individuals looking for a decedent’s life insurance contract. Contact information for insurance departments in all 50 states can be obtained through the NAIC’s Map of States and Jurisdictions.
Tip #6 – Order a Report from the MIB Policy Locator Service
The Medical Information Bureau (MIB) underwriting service is a resource used by many life and health insurance companies as an integral part of the underwriting process.
Though no comprehensive list of active life insurance policies exists, there ia a database of all applications processed since 1996. However, unlike the free NAIC policy search the MIB Policy Locator Service charges a fee.
According to the MIB website, “executors or administrators of a decedent's estate are permitted to 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 MIB Policy Locator Service report.”
It is important for consumers to note that the majority of MEB Policy Locator Service searches produce no actionable results.
Tip #7 – Contact the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators
Last on our list, but definitely not to be discounted is contacting the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) to inquire about the possible existence of unclaimed property.
The NAUPA facilitates the sharing of information among State Treasurers and other administrators in an attempt to connect unclaimed property with its rightful owner.
If an insured individual passes away and the insurance company is unable to locate policy beneficiary(s) the death benefit is ultimately transferred to the state as unclaimed property. A quick search using the NAUPA endorsed website MissingMoney.com may help in identifying an otherwise lost life insurance policy.
As a side note, a search for unclaimed property is not only useful in how to find a life insurance policy exists, but also for any other unclaimed property.
In doing research for this article I actually found unclaimed property in three states worth a few hundred dollars for myself and two other family members. So, I highly recommend a quick search. Best of luck!