How to find an unclaimed life insurance policy

Ideally, beneficiaries of life insurance policies have all the information they need to file a claim. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case: more than a billion dollars have gone unclaimed in the US because beneficiaries don’t know they’re enrolled in a policy or can’t find the proper documentation.

In 2011, the National Conference of Insurance Legislators created the Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits Act, which standardized procedures for unclaimed policies and required insurers to periodically check the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File database to identify deceased policyholders and their beneficiaries.

However, this is not a reliable method and millions of benefits go unpaid each year. Fortunately, there are several ways to see if you are owed life insurance payments.

To search for a specific life insurance policy, you will need the person’s official death certificate, which includes the person’s full legal name, social security number, and dates of birth and death.

If you find a policy, you’ll also need your driver’s license, passport or other official ID to prove your identity when you make a claim.

If you have an idea of ​​who named you as the beneficiary and which insurer they had a policy with, start your search there. If not, reviewing financial documents such as income tax returns and bank records may provide clues. (A policy can even be stored in a safe.)

If your loved one was employed when they died, their company’s human resources department may be able to tell you whether they had group life insurance or supplemental life insurance.

Friends, family, coworkers, previous employers, and even clergy can also be a helpful resource—or at least lead you to lawyers, accountants, or other professionals with relevant information..

Finding a lost life insurance policy can be a good motivator to decide if you need coverage yourself. If you do need a policy, CNBC Select recommends Guardian as a standout for its affordability, flexibility and high financial strength rating.

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The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) website has an online form available to anyone who believes they may be the beneficiary of an unclaimed life insurance policy.

To use the locator service, you must have the suspected policyholder’s legal name, social security number, and dates of birth and death.

Information submitted to the NAIC is sent to participating insurance companies, which search their records for open policies. This process can take several months, according to the NAIC.

Life insurance companies use Social Security Administration records to determine whether a policyholder has died. They also look for beneficiaries, but if they fail, the funds are declared unclaimed or ‘dormant’.

Each state has different rules about how long it takes for a policy to be considered passive, according to the Association of Abandoned Property Professionals, though it’s usually between three and five years. (In Arizona and North Dakota, the grace period is one year.)

If that time has passed, you can search for unclaimed funds in the state where the deceased last lived or where they purchased their policy.

The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators’ Missing Money site lets you search multiple state databases for unclaimed funds at once — not just insurance payouts, but money from utility companies, retailers and more. This is a free service and users can start the claims process immediately.

Several life insurance companies have online policy search tools, including John Hancock, MetLife, and New York Life.

If you think you may be a beneficiary of a US military veterans policy, the US Department of Veterans Affairs has a searchable database.

If you discover that you are the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, you will need to file a claim to receive your payment. You will need several copies of the person’s death certificate. You can get them through the vital records office of the state where the person died.

You can either work with an insurance agent to contact the insurer or do it directly yourself. In addition to the death certificate, you will probably need to provide identification and details about yourself to complete the claim form before submitting it online or by post.

You’ll also need to choose how you want to receive your benefits — in most cases, either as a lump sum or as an annuity paid out regularly from an invested account.

There is no deadline for filing a life insurance claim, but the sooner you file, the sooner you will receive a payout. In most states, insurers have up to 30 days to review a claim and send payment.

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If you think someone has named you as the beneficiary of their life insurance policy, there are easy-to-use online tools that can guide your search. In some cases, you may need to gather documentation and speak with a family member or representative first.

At CNBC Select, our mission is to provide our readers with high-quality journalistic service and comprehensive consumer advice so they can make informed decisions with their money. Each life insurance review is based on rigorous reporting by our team of expert writers and editors with extensive knowledge of life insurance products. Although CNBC Select earns a commission from affiliate partners for many offers and links, we create all of our content without input from our sales team or outside third parties, and we pride ourselves on our journalistic standards and ethics. See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best life insurance.

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Editorial Note: The opinions, analysis, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are solely those of the editorial staff of Select and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or otherwise endorsed by any third party.

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