Consumer Reports estimated that at least $1 billion in benefits from forgotten life insurance policies are waiting to be claimed. Often, when I meet with adult children wrapping up a parent’s estate, they don’t know whether that parent had life insurance policies. For example, many veterans of WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War left behind policies that they purchased while on active duty through the Veterans Administration. And they may have forgotten to tell their inheritors about these plans.
I realize that I’m stating the obvious here, but you can’t make a claim on policies that you don’t know exist. And generally speaking, life insurance companies aren’t going to go out of their way to notify folks of policies waiting to be claimed, although several of the largest ones—IG, Forethought, John Hancock, MetLife, Nationwide, and Prudential—have agreed to search more diligently for deceased policy holders.
Unfortunately, only ten states have centralized databases of insurance policies issued in their state: Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Vermont. If your state isn’t on this list, you do have other options for your search:
Finding Life Insurance Policies Held by Veterans
If a person who died was a veteran, there’s an easy way to search for life insurance policies. Use this quick link to the Veterans Administration website, where you can use the veteran’s name to search for unclaimed funds.
Finding Non-Military Life Insurance Policies
For most other life insurance policies, you’ll have to do some sleuthing. If you’re willing to pay for help, you can use MIB, a company that maintains a large databases on policies issues since the early 1990s. The search will cost you $75.
Or you can do home-grown detective work for free:
- look through checkbooks for premium payments
- look through mail for annual bills
- check old tax returns (people have to report policies that pay interest)
- check safe deposit boxes, where people often stash policies
- contacting employers and unions to find out if they offered life insurance
- contact with financial advisors who may have sold a parent an annuity or other insurance product
If the person died more than two years ago, you can also look for policies that insurance companies have turned over to the state. The website Missing Money gathers unclaimed property records from 38 states, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.
You Found a Policy — Now What?
If you find a policy and want to contact an insurer, you should have some basic information ready: a death certificate, date of birth, full name, and possibly the person’s last known address. The company may not want to speak to you unless you are an executor or immediate family. But if you are the beneficiary, they’ll send you forms and tell you how to claim the money.
Liza Hanks’s most recent book is Every Californian’s Guide to Estate Planning. To connect with her directly visit www.lizahanks.com, where a version of this post originally appeared on her blog.
To get more answers to common questions about inheritance law, see Legal Consumer’s Inheritance Law learning center.