Consumer Reports estimates that at least $1 billion in benefits from forgotten life insurance policies are waiting to be claimed. Often, when I meet with adult children administering a trust after the death of a parent, they’re not certain about whether not that parent had life insurance policies. And many veterans of WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War left behind policies that they purchased while on active duty through the Veterans Administration.
I realize that I’m stating the obvious here, but you can’t make a claim on policies that you don’t know exist. And generally speaking, life insurance companies aren’t going to go out of their way to notify potential claimants of policies waiting to be claimed, although several of the largest ones have agreed to search for deceased policy holders more diligently: AIG, Forethought, John Hancock, MetLife, Nationwide, and Prudential.
Unfortunately, only 10 states have centralized databases of insurance policies issued in their state, and California isn’t one of them. (They are Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Vermont).
For policies held by veterans, here’s a quick link to the VA’s website where you can search for a veteran’s policies.
For non-military policies, you’ll have to do some more sleuthing. For a $75 fee, you can use MIB, a company that maintains a large databases on policies issues since the early 1990’s.
Then there’s the more home-grown detective work: looking through checkbooks for premium payments, looking through mail for annual bills; contacting employers and unions to find out if there is life insurance available through them; and asking financial advisors who may have sold a parent an annuity or other insurance product.
Another place to look is old tax returns. Some life insurance policies pay interest, which would then be reported on the return.
And don’t forget safe deposit boxes, where people often stash policies.
If it’s been more than two years since someone died, you can also look for unclaimed property that’s been turned over to the state by the insurance companies. In California, you can search here at the State Controller’s website. If you need to search in other states, try this website, which aggregates records from 38 states, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.
If you find a policy and want to contact an insurer, you’ll need to have some basic information ready: a death certificate, date of birth, name, possibly last known address. The company may not want to speak to you unless you are an executor or immediate family. But if you are the beneficiary, they’ll send you forms and tell you exactly what you’ll need to do to claim the money.