How to find a lost life insurance policy

By Maryalene LaPonsie on January 3rd, 2012

Affordable life insurance is only a good value if your loved ones are able to claim the death benefit. Unfortunately, some beneficiaries may not be aware of a policy's existence while others may not realize whole life insurance generally maintains a cash value that can be claimed even after premium payments have ended.

Although there is no national registry for life insurance plans, there are ways to locate a lost policy.

Beneficiaries left in the dark

There are no hard numbers available regarding the number of uncollected policies currently being held by life insurance companies and the government. However, the problem of uninformed beneficiaries was highlighted in a survey conducted by Nationwide last fall.

While 91 percent of policyholders have told their beneficiaries about their life insurance plan, only 57 percent have actually told them where to find the policy. In addition, 30 percent of insured individuals are not confident their beneficiaries know how to file a claim.

The result is an untold number of unclaimed policies being held by life insurance companies. According to a New York Times report, Joseph Belth, a professor emeritus at Indiana University, tried to survey life insurance companies and quantify the value of unclaimed polices.

Belth estimates $351 million in dormant life insurance policies have been transferred to state unclaimed property divisions since 2009. However, he received a lukewarm response to his inquiries from insurers.

Finding lost life insurance

Life insurance companies are required to turn over dormant policies to the state for safekeeping. If you are searching for lost life insurance plans, the first place to check may be with your state's unclaimed property division. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators website includes links to each state agency responsible for unclaimed and abandoned property.

However, it may be many years before a life insurance plan is turned over to the government. If you have recently lost a loved one and are trying to determine whether he or she maintained life insurance coverage, the American Council of Life Insurers suggests the following tips:

  • Check bank statements and canceled checks for potential payments of life insurance premiums.
  • Call any insurance company or agent with whom your loved one previously did business.
  • Review paperwork in files and safe-deposit boxes.
  • Watch for premium payment notices in the mail for up to a year.
  • Check with the human resources office of your loved one's past place of employment to see if he or she maintained work-related life insurance benefits.
  • Review previous income tax returns for any interest received from whole life plans.

Another option is to pay for a policy locator service through MIB Group, a life insurance industry organization. For a fee, MIB will search its records for any life insurance applications that have been made by the deceased in the previous 14 years. According to the group, this service is able to locate application records in 30 percent of all cases.

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