Insurers are aware of the hardships that survivors face when a family member dies and they aren’t prepared for it. That’s why the insurance industry has created databases that survivors can use to search for any lost life insurance policies that may be in force, as well as other financial instruments that may have fallen through the cracks.
Search online for “lost life insurance policy.” Some services are fee-based, and limited to policies with minimum face amounts, such as $100,000, and very old policies may not be searchable. Before you pay someone to search for a lost policy, there’s much you can do on your own.
Here are two sites where you can check for policies:
Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance (SGLI) may not be represented in some databases. If the deceased was in the military or was a recently discharged veteran, contact the unit admin officer or SGLI directly. Find more information at http://www.benefits.gov/benefits/benefit-details/585.
Missingmoney.com is a website of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. It allows consumers to search records from 38 states and the Canadian provinces, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. If you should find a policy (or other financial assets, such as an uncashed paycheck or refund check) in your name or a potential benefactor’s name, you’ll need to prove your claim.
You may be able to find documentation to prove your claim (such as a death certificate) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) site. The required documentation varies by state, and should be detailed in the claim form that accompanies the listing. A death certificate will likely be needed for a life insurance policy. Log onto the CDC site at (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/w2w/index.htm) to order copies, assuming you qualify by relationship.
Here’s some additional guidance to aid your search:
- Go through all of the decedent’s paperwork and statements you can find, including safe deposit boxes.
- Look for evidence of dealing with an insurance company, such as bills, statements or canceled checks. If you locate any such evidence, contact that company directly. Don’t assume a policy is no longer in force. Ask.
- Reach out to former employers and ask if any workplace-issued life insurance may have been in place.
- Scour recent bank statements looking for evidence of direct debits made to pay policy premiums.
- Go through emails and correspondence for evidence of communication with insurance agents of any kind, and contact those agents. They may have records of a life insurance policy being applied for or issued, even if you don’t have a policy on hand.
- If you find evidence of a policy but the company no longer seems to exist, contact the state insurance commissioner. Their office can inform you if the insurer has been acquired or if some other provision has been made to protect beneficiaries.
- Try company-level lost policy finders. Go to the insurer’s website and search for “lost policy.”
A lost or missing insurance policy can be tremendously stressful for surviving family members. The best way to prevent problems is to communicate with loved ones well before the need arises. However, that’s not always possible. The steps outlined here will help you get started.
Beware the Help You Seek
Sooner or later, if there’s a possibility of financial gain, unethical people will devise fraud schemes. The Florida Department of Financial Services has warned the public of a scam related to unclaimed property, such as life insurance policies. Often they operate under names that closely resemble those of federal agencies or well-known charities.
A bogus company calling itself the Florida Department of Financial Restitution offers to reunite consumers with lost or forgotten assets. They may sound philanthropic, but their help comes at a price — a $600 upfront fee.
You should know, there are legitimate companies that will mine data looking for unclaimed assets on your behalf for a percentage of what they find, if they find anything at all. If you have more money than time, this might be an option. But you should also know, you can also mine the same data for free. Visit missingmoney.com or, if your state isn’t listed there, search online for your state’s name and “unclaimed property.” It’s a simple matter of typing in the name of the decedent. If there are any unclaimed assets and you’re entitled to them, you’ll find directions, forms, and contacts you need to claim the assets.
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