If you can’t find the life insurance policy of a deceased relative, you've probably checked the obvious places — desk drawers, file cabinets, maybe even under the mattress.
Now it's time to broaden the search. You'll need to locate the name of the company that issued the policy in order to make a life insurance claim. Here are ways to find it.
Use a state policy locator service (if available)
In response to calls for easier ways to track down lost life insurance policies, some states have created centralized search services. Once you submit your paperwork, the following states will forward the information to all life insurers licensed there:
The insurers will search their records to see if any life insurance policies are in the name of the deceased. If so, the life insurance companies will contact you if you're the beneficiary or deceased person's legal representative or executor. If not, they'll work to find the beneficiary of the policy.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners is building a national policy locator app. The online tool features an interactive U.S. map. You click on the state and follow the instructions for submitting a search request. The tool, which the association says will be finished in the fall of 2016, will do one of the following:
Forward you to that state's policy locator service, if it has one.
Forward a form you complete online to that state's department of insurance.
Give you a phone number for that state's department of insurance.
The state insurance department then will forward your search request to life insurance companies licensed to do business in that state. If a policy is found, then the insurer will contact you, as long as you're legally authorized to receive the information, or it will search for the policy's beneficiary.
A few notes about these services: Generally you need to be an executor, a beneficiary or an immediate relative of the deceased person to perform a search. If you’re just curious about whether your elderly neighbors left any life insurance to their no-good son, you’re not eligible to do a search.
The searches will be helpful only if the policyholder bought the policy in that state. For example, if your relative bought a policy while living in Texas and then moved to New York, New York’s search system won’t help you. You'll need to use the Texas policy locator service. You’ll typically need to provide basic information about the deceased, such as the dates of birth and death and a copy of the death certificate.
Don’t hold your breath, though: Searches aren’t instant. The Texas Department of Insurance, for example, notes that it can take up to 90 days for insurers to respond.
Wait for the mail
Watch for life insurance bills or statements in the deceased person’s mail. Worst-case scenario: Your relative paid annually and just recently paid the last bill. In that case, you could be waiting almost a year for the next bill to arrive.
Do a paperwork search
Look for evidence of payment to a life insurance company in checkbook registers, canceled checks and credit card statements. If your relative had a permanent life insurance policy, check his or her tax returns. You’re looking for interest income or interest expense for a life insurance policy.
Contact the employer
Ask the benefits department at your relative’s employer whether the relative had group life insurance through the workplace. Note that group life benefits generally end on the last day of work, so it’s unlikely you’ll find existing life insurance policies through past employers.
Ask financial advisors
Financial advisors are often licensed life insurance agents and may have sold your relative a policy or know of an existing policy.
Check with insurance agents
Your relative may have mentioned life insurance to his or her auto or homeowners insurance agent — or even purchased a policy through the same insurer. It’s worth a try.
Contact the bank
Find out whether your relative kept a safe deposit box at the bank — and then check it for a policy. You’ll need to be the estate executor to do this. In addition, ask the bank if your relative purchased life insurance through the bank.
Try the MIB Group
The MIB Group maintains a database of life insurance application information going back to 1996. Insurance companies use the database to exchange information among themselves about customers. If your relative applied for individual life insurance after 1995, MIB probably has a record. While MIB won’t know whether your relative ended up buying the policy, knowing where he or she applied is a significant lead. MIB’s Policy Locator Service costs $75, and the company reports that almost 30% of searches turn up information.
Check with unclaimed property programs
If a life insurance company knows a customer is deceased but can’t find the beneficiaries, it will eventually turn the money over to the state’s unclaimed property program. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators has links to all state programs. If your relative’s death was recent, though, the benefit money won’t have been identified as unclaimed property yet.
Once you know the company name ...
All you really need to find is the company name. You don’t need a copy of the policy or a policy number to make a claim if you’re the beneficiary. Once you know the company, contact the insurer for its claim paperwork, and be ready to provide the death certificate. You should have your money in a couple of weeks.
Avoid the problem yourself
Could all your searching and frustration have been avoided? Yes — for each “lost” life insurance policy, a few simple words can spare months of searching. Tell family members the name of your life insurance company.