If you’re the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, you might think a check will arrive in the mail after the insured person dies. But you need to be proactive to get your payout.
Life insurance companies pay out more than $60 billion to Americans each year, but many policies go unclaimed. Here's how you can make a life insurance claim.
How to claim life insurance money
Find the life insurance company name. You don’t need the policy in hand to make a claim, or even the policy number. If you know the name of the company — or the name of the agent who sold the policy — the policy number can be looked up for you.
Get the death certificate: You’ll need to supply the death certificate when you submit your claim.
Fill out the company’s claim paperwork: Many life insurance companies have claim forms online. You can also call the insurer to get the paperwork.
Send in the paperwork: Typical claim forms ask for basic details about you and the deceased person, and how you would like to be paid.
Wait for the money: Insurers generally pay life insurance claims within a week or two of receiving the paperwork.
Ways to receive the money
There are two main ways to receive your money from a life insurance claim:
In a lump sum. You may be offered a draft account, much like a checking account, that allows you to withdraw money any time, in any amount, until the money is gone.
In installments over time. The insurer will hold the money and may offer you some of these choices, with details varying by company:
Interest payments: The insurer pays you regular interest on the balance. The principal may then go to your estate upon your death. Check the insurer’s rules to find out if you also have the option to withdraw from the principal.
Fixed period: The insurer makes regular payments on the principal and interest for a designated period of time.
Fixed amount: The insurer pays a defined amount at regular intervals until the payout and interest are exhausted.
Life income: The payout gets converted into an annuity that provides regular payments for the rest of your life.
Hundreds of millions of dollars unclaimed
In many cases, beneficiaries don't make life insurance claims because they don’t know which company holds the policy, or they may not even know a policy exists. Over the last few years, state insurance regulators have been cracking down on life insurance companies that make no attempt to figure out if people insured on their policies have died, even after the customers would have reached the “limiting age” — 100 on older policies, 120 on recent ones — after which death is assumed.
From 2011 through 2014, 21 insurers covering 60% of the U.S. life insurance market paid state regulators a total of more than $167 million to settle allegations that they were not checking death records, according to a 2015 report. Life insurers have paid more than $1 billion to beneficiaries as the result of state investigations.
As part of the settlements, insurers agreed to check death records. But that still doesn’t mean you should wait for an insurer to come find you. And if you can’t make a life insurance claim because you don’t know what company sold the policy, there are ways to find lost life insurance.
Don’t forget to claim other life insurance policies
If the deceased was still working, he or she may have had group life insurance at work. In this case, when the employer finds out that a worker has died, the benefits department will likely contact any beneficiaries.
Spouses, former spouses, and minor or disabled children of a deceased person may also be entitled to survivor benefits from the Social Security Administration.
If you’re looking to financially protect your family with life insurance, NerdWallet’s life insurance comparison tool can help you easily compare prices.
Image via iStock.