It’s 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 plentiful even than the 270 million registered vehicles on our roads.
Unlike our cars, though, life insurance can be understandably forgotten when you consider that some people have a policy in force for 10, 20 or even 30 years. After years of raising children, home buying, and other major milestones, the paperwork or login info 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 don’t know where to collect the proceeds of a life insurance policy (otherwise known as a death benefit.)
And even though most insurers have systems in place to help locate beneficiaries when a policyholder passes away, there are a few 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’s a policy in force, then the policyholder has been paying premiums, so you may be able to find records of those transactions in bank statements, whether they’re online or printed. This is one of the simplest ways to find an unclaimed life insurance policy after a loved one passes.
Search monthly transactions for any clues about which insurer to contact. For example, customers with a Haven Term policy, issued by MassMutual or its subsidiary, C.M. Life, will have the draft from their bank account come up as “MASSMUTUAL/HAVEN INSPREMIUM…” on a monthly basis.
If search results don’t turn up any information about what insurer to contact, you should still go through transactions line by line to be sure you aren’t overlooking something. If the policyholder paid the premiums annually, you may need to go through a couple year’s worth of transactions to see when the payment occurred.
Once you find the life insurance issuer’s name, 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 hadn’t made a premium payment since opening the new account? In that case, bank records may not help and you might need to dig a little deeper.
Check with the policyholder’s employer to see 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 didn’t include transactions for premiums.
Most insurers have processes in place to help
Even if you can find no record of 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 about the death of a policyholder (through third-party scanning services that are in place), most have procedures in place to start trying to find the policy’s beneficiary. (Our parent company, MassMutual, does.)
Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s the law — insurers are required to scan the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (or a similar database) at least twice a year, and to make good faith efforts to track down the beneficiaries of anyone listed. (MassMutual does so more often.)
There’s also a financial incentive for insurers to pay the beneficiary the death benefit as soon as possible. This is because varying state interest rates accrue the longer the claim remains unpaid.
Contacting state resources
Even with an insurer’s efforts, it’s not always possible to find a beneficiary. In such cases, the insurer transfers the payout to the state where the policy was issued. Normally, the money goes to the state’s office of unclaimed property.
You can find your state in this national database of unclaimed property offices. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) also offers a lost policy service. It may take a few months for unclaimed property 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 bureau offers online tools to track down a lost policy if it is 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 times in life that are more heartbreaking or stressful than the death of a loved one. If you have life insurance coverage, or if you’re shopping for a policy, there are many steps you can take now to help ensure it’s smooth sailing for your beneficiary if anything ever happened to you.
Have a conversation
Start by talking with your family about your coverage so they’ll know what insurer you’ve chosen and how to file a claim. Life insurance touches on topics like finances and death which are sensitive for some people, so it’s easy to put off such discussions. But it’s also an important conversation since it could 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 any other important financial documents and logins, you should keep life insurance policy and information in a central, secure and organized location for your partner or beneficiaries.
Some prefer the pen-and-paper approach by writing down account numbers and storing policy documents in an office folder, or even a safe deposit box, for safekeeping. Others use digital folders to maintain and store up-to-date passwords and policy forms.
Your preferred method isn’t as important as simply ensuring you have some sort of organized way for your loved ones to easily access accounts and assets if you were to die suddenly. And, remember to update your information at least every year.
Make your plans known
Creating a living will or an estate plan is another way to help guide your survivors to locating your assets as efficiently as possible. If you have a partner, children or assets you wish to leave to a friend or loved one, then it’s imperative that you have a living will. Get in touch with a lawyer who specializes in estate planning to start this process.
These documents address important affairs when you die and specify who can make financial and medical decisions on your behalf should you be unable to make them for yourself. Typically, you do not want to rely on the laws of your home state to make these decisions for you.
Life insurance offers reasons to worry less
Life insurance policies are popular because of the peace of mind they offer the insured. With dependable coverage in place, you can stop worrying about how your family would survive financially if the unthinkable happened and you died way too soon. Instead, you’ll know you’ve done what you can to help financially protect your family even during challenging times.
So if you have coverage in force, or if you’re shopping for coverage, tell your beneficiary or beneficiaries. Write down your policy information. Hopefully they’ll never need to use your coverage, but at least both of you have the peace of mind in knowing it’s there.
If you’ve lost a family member who had a life insurance policy in force, know that there are systems and resources in place to help you locate a policy or for the insurer to assist.
About Brittney Burgett
Brittney Burgett is the marketing and communications director at Haven Life, a customer-centric life insurance agency backed 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 need to be intimidating or complicated and brings that philosophy to all the editorial and brand work at Haven Life. Prior to her role at Haven Life, Brittney worked in public relations, her client list included brands in the tech, food and nutrition spaces.
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