Locating a missing policy can seem daunting, especially if you're still grieving the loss of a loved one. However, there are certain steps that you can take to help guide you during your life insurance policy search:
Speak with family and close friends
People close to the deceased may have information about the policy, such as where it may be stored, people named as beneficiaries, or the name of the insurance company. If they had an insurance agent (who might be listed in their contacts), that person might be able to help.
Contact the insurance company
If you know the name of the insurance company that issued the policy (or the agent who sold it), you can reach out to them directly to help find the policy you need. This will likely require you to submit proof that you're a beneficiary, like your driver's license or social security number and the policyholder's death certificate.
Review their documents (physical and digital)
Look through the deceased's personal belongings, papers, files, safe deposit boxes (if you have access), or any places you think they may have used to store important documents. You can also check bank statements for premium payments for term life insurance or indications that they tapped into the cash value of a whole life policy – such as funds transferred from a life insurance company into their account.
Contact the deceased’s advisors
Don’t know their insurance agent? Try reaching out to the deceased’s accountants, attorneys, or financial professionals to get the information you need.
Use a life Insurance policy locator
Certain organizations have online tools that can help you locate a policy, but you have to be an interested party with the legal right to access it. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners, MIB Group, and the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators all provide life insurance policy location services.
You can't simply request information about a stranger's life insurance coverage. Life insurance is strictly regulated by privacy laws that typically limit access to policy information. Specifically, only the following individuals are typically granted access to this information:
- Next of kin (e.g., deceased spouse or child)
- Any designated beneficiary on the policy
- Estates executors and Trustees (the person appointed or named to oversee the distribution of final assets)
You should be prepared to do some paperwork and keep certain documents and pieces of information handy as you go about your search. It’s a good idea to keep a file with as much of the following as possible:
- The deceased's legal first and last name and any former names (e.g., a maiden name)
- Social security number
- Date of birth
- Date of death
- Death certificate
- Proof of your own identity (e.g., copy of a government-issued driver’s license or passport)
- Last and former addresses, especially for any long-time residences
If your loved one served in the military and you think they may have life insurance through the Veterans Administration (the VA), it may also be a good idea to have any discharge papers or other records of their service. Find out more at VA.gov.
If you are fairly certain a policy exists and you believe that you could be listed as a beneficiary, there are a few different ways to confirm your status – or not. The best way is to contact the policy's issuer (the life insurance company). Their records are key: even if you see your name listed on an old policy document, the deceased may have changed their beneficiaries (or the allocation of benefits among those beneficiaries) after that document was printed. Once an insurance company confirms that you're a beneficiary, they will tell you how to submit a claim, but the process is typically a straightforward matter: you need to show that the policyholder has died and confirm your own identity. If you're not sure what life insurance company holds the policy, you can submit a request to search the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) database for the specific policy you're looking for. If the NAIC doesn't find a policy with you as beneficiary – and you believe such a policy exists – consider reaching out to the deceased policyholder's estate attorney or financial professional, who may have more information.
If you've verified that you're a policy beneficiary, you should contact the insurance company directly to make your claim. Some life insurance companies resell or transfer policies to another insurer after issuing the policy. That shouldn't cause an issue with collecting any benefits you're entitled to, but to avoid delays, it's best to provide them with the policy itself or other proof that you are a beneficiary. You'll also need to submit your full name, contact information, social security number, the death certificate of the policyholder, and possibly other information to initiate the claims process.
Unfortunately, life insurance benefits often go unclaimed. This usually happens for a few different reasons. First, insurance companies may not have accurate or complete beneficiary information making them difficult to locate. Also, death certificates are issued by local government agencies who aren’t required to notify life insurance companies every time a citizen passes away. So, insurance companies typically don't even know that a policyholder has passed away until someone submits a beneficiary claim.
If no one claims the life insurance benefits within a specific time frame, insurers should act. Most state laws require life insurance companies to make reasonable efforts to locate all beneficiaries. And even if the company hasn't been notified of a death, most (but not all) states require life insurers to regularly review the Social Security Administration's Death Master File to see if any of the policyholders have passed away. This database lists the names of people whose deaths have been reported to the Social Security Administration, and it is considered the most comprehensive such list in the country. If a good faith effort has been made to locate the beneficiaries and there are no claims on the policy, the company will turn the money over to the state's unclaimed property office. It's important to note that most state laws require several years to pass before insurers have to turn over unclaimed benefits. What happens if you learn that you're a loved one's beneficiary after the benefit goes to the state? You have to get in contact with your state's unclaimed property office to determine how to claim your benefits.
Investing in life insurance can provide your family with important financial protection if you pass away unexpectedly. However, sometimes people forget to tell their loved ones about their coverage. While a spouse usually knows if there's a policy, their adult children often don't know about it. Policies can also be lost or misplaced, especially during a move, and your family may not realize the documents are missing until after you're gone. This doesn't have to be the case – you can and should take common-sense steps to ensure your family can quickly locate the documents in the event of your death.
The best way to prevent these problems is by talking with family members and letting them know about your policy and who has been named as a beneficiary. It's also a good idea to keep at least two copies of your policy, one in a safe and secure place in your home and another at a different location, like your lawyer's office. (However, safety deposit boxes may not be the best place to store life insurance policies or wills because they can be difficult for family members to access without a court order.) Insurance professionals suggest writing the dates on the physical copies of your policy, so your family will know which is the latest version. Finally, reaching out to the insurance company and ensuring they have up-to-date information for contacting your beneficiaries is a good way to ensure that your benefits don't go unclaimed – and your final wishes are carried out in the manner that you want.
Can you look up someone's life insurance policy?
Because of strict privacy laws, strangers aren't allowed to see if someone has life insurance. Access to life insurance is usually limited to next of kin, estate executors, and named beneficiaries. If you fall into one of these categories but can't find a loved one's policy, you can request policy information from the insurance company.
How do I find out if a life insurance policy exists for free?
A good place to start looking for a lost life insurance policy is the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' Life Insurance Policy Locator Service. The NAIC has a free online search database that you can use to help find an unclaimed life insurance policy. All you have to do is simply go to their website and submit a request. You'll need the deceased's death certificate, social security number, full name, date of birth, and date of death. NAIC will then reach out to participating companies on your behalf to see if an unclaimed policy exists. If one of the participating companies holds the policy, they'll contact you if you're listed as a beneficiary or are authorized to access the policy.