How to Find Out if a Deceased Person Had Life Insurance: Step-By-Step

Updated

You’ve probably never talked with your beloved parent or grandparent about their life insurance coverage. It’s not the most pleasant conversation and can make some people downright uncomfortable. You aren’t alone if you would rather chat with those closest to you about sports or the weather rather than about life insurance. 

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However, avoiding this type of serious talk could mean you’re unaware of any active life insurance policies when the time comes, or you may be confused about where to begin hunting for life coverage when you need to. 

Now that you need to do some digging, you may want to check out our step-by-step guide that explores how to figure out if a deceased person had life insurance. 

Who’s Allowed to Figure Out If a Deceased Person Had a Life Insurance Policy? 

Anyone can do research into whether their deceased loved one had a life insurance plan. You can look through their personal paperwork or search online. Once you confirm there is existing life insurance, then you’ll run into some traditional administrative rules.  

Although you can freely investigate the existence of a life insurance plan, you can’t necessarily get a lot of details straight from the life insurer unless you’re next of kin (e.g. spouse, child) or a named beneficiary.

The life insurance company will want proof of your identity and relationship to the dearly departed before disclosing any life insurance specifics. That’s because the life insurer has an obligation to protect the privacy of their customers even after death.

What Documents or Items Will You Need?

During your research, you’ll want all the same type of information that a beneficiary needs to file a claim. Gathering the below documents can make your hunt for life insurance much easier. You’ll want to know things about the deceased like: 

  • Full legal name, as well as maiden name
  • Date of birth
  • Date of death
  • State of residence
  • Social Security number 

Of course, if life insurance is located and you’re the beneficiary, you’ll need all the above details and then some to file the claim. You’ll also need proof of your relationship to the insured. 

Nothing moves forward in a life insurance claim until an original, certified death certificate becomes available. This document is the official proof of your loved one’s passing. You can obtain the death certificate from the funeral home or the state or county vital records office. 

Steps for Finding Out If You’re the Beneficiary of a Deceased Person’s Life Insurance 

Most people don’t really like to talk about end-of-life planning, including life insurance coverage and beneficiaries. Plus, policy terms can last decades, and the named beneficiaries may change over the years. For all these reasons, it’s no wonder you may not know if you’re the beneficiary of a deceased person’s life insurance plan. 

Death master file

Most life insurers regularly cross-check their death files against the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File. In case you’re not aware, the Death Master File records the deaths of individuals with a Social Security number as reported by funeral homes, coroners, and hospitals.  

If a life insurance company comes across a policy that’s unclaimed, they’ll dig around for the named beneficiary’s proper address. Then the insurer will mail the beneficiary a claim form that can be submitted with proof of your relationship to the insured, identifying info about the deceased person, and (most critically) an original, certified death certificate.  

We wouldn’t recommend you wait to be identified by the life insurance company. It’s always best to be proactive in researching your loved one’s life insurance coverage.  

Unclaimed property search

Your state probably has an unclaimed property search website that can be used to seek out any unclaimed life insurance policies. If your loved one only recently passed away, then this should be your last choice for finding missing life insurance. Normally, lost life insurance benefits show up on unclaimed property databases months (or years) after the person has passed away. 

Once you confirm there’s actual life insurance coverage, then you’ll be able to follow our above tips for verifying your role as beneficiary. 

Steps for Discovering If a Deceased Loved One Has a Life Insurance Policy

There are obvious steps to take, like checking the dearly departed’s personal files and mail deliveries, and talking with their closest confidants. If you take all those actions but still come up empty-handed, you’ll need to do a deeper dive. 

Contact past employers

Your loved one may have active life insurance via present (or past) employers, social organizations, or professional associations. Even if your family member hasn’t worked for decades or is no longer attending association meetings, they could still have active life coverage being administered by these organizations. 

Call the financial advisor

The deceased may have relied on any number of professionals to assist with end-of-life planning, including buying life insurance. These professionals may have helped your family member find the best life insurance policy:

  • Financial advisor 
  • Certified public account (CPA)
  • Attorney
  • Personal banker 

Perhaps your family member had car or homeowner’s insurance. If so, you can easily locate those policies and call the insurance agent of record. The deceased may have worked with that same insurance agent in setting up life coverage, too.

Secondary documents and locations

There is a variety of personal paperwork that can provide excellent hints when it comes to locating life insurance. Keep your eyes open for the following items: 

  • Bank statements: You may see monthly or annual premium payments being deducted for the life insurance protection. 
  • Tax returns: Look for interest earned or dividends paid out. This will occur if your loved one has a whole life policy with a cash value component. 
  • Safety deposit boxes: Check the deceased’s bank for a safety deposit box that may hold significant documents like life insurance. 
  • Home or office filing cabinets: If your family member was still working, perhaps you’ll find more life insurance clues within their office effects. You can also look through the deceased’s home filing cabinets for policy paperwork. 

Call the state insurance department

If you aren’t having much luck finding proof of life insurance among personal items, then reach out to your state insurance commissioner’s office. Most state insurance offices have a website that provides lots of information about how people can access their free services. 

Most insurance commissioners rely on life insurance inquiries from loved ones. Once a policy inquiry is submitted, the insurance department distributes a statewide bulletin to licensed agencies. Unless the inquiry comes from an approved family member (like the spouse or beneficiary), then the state insurance department will most likely deny the inquiry. 

Online research

The websites below offer a free life insurance search tool. 

All you have to do is type in your loved one’s name and hit “search.” There are no costs involved for this preliminary review. 

Hire a search company

Can you believe there are actual search companies that will look for your family member’s lost life insurance plan? It’s true! 

Trained cyber sleuths will contact dozens of life insurers on your behalf to figure out if there’s a missing policy. You’ll definitely have to pay some type of fee for this service, so be sure to verify the cost before moving forward. 

Be aware of potential scam search companies because they do, unfortunately, exist as well as many legit organizations. 

NAIC Free Policy Locator 

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) website has a free policy locator tool. You can send the information on your deceased loved one to any annuity or insurance company across the country via the NAIC tool. You’ll want to have information about you and your deceased family member, including the death certificate, on hand while filling out the free policy look-up. 

What Are the Next Steps If You Discover a Deceased Loved One’s Life Insurance Policy?

The NAIC reports that it may take up to 90 business days to receive a reply from the life insurer. The insurance company will contact you directly if you’re the beneficiary, a legal representative, or the executor of the deceased person’s estate.

Step 1: Confirm important insured info

No matter how you track down your family member’s missing life insurance, you’ll eventually have to give the insurer more details. These specifics about the departed will be printed on the death certificate: 

  • Full legal name, including maiden name 
  • Dates of birth & death
  • Official cause of death 
  • State of deceased’s residence
  • Social Security number of the departed
  • Policy number (if you know it) 

Remember, the insurer isn’t trying to give you a headache. Instead, the insurance carrier is trying to protect the identity and assets of your departed family member. 

Step 2: Submit your death claim 

Typically, the life insurer will ask you to fill out either an electronic or paper claim form. In addition to the claim form, you’ll have to share the official death certificate. Some insurers will ask you to send them the published death notice (also known as an obituary), as well as proof of your identity, too. 

Step 3: Wait for death claim processing

Once you’ve submitted the death claim, there’s not much more for you to do. Life insurance payouts usually take anywhere from one week to 60 days.  

There are legitimate reasons why your death claim may drag on longer than anticipated. For instance, any of these scenarios could cause delays: 

  • The insurer may have a claim backlog. 
  • The manner of death could complicate the claim process (e.g., suicide, homicide). 
  • The insurer may no longer be in business. 
  • There may be a beneficiary dispute.

The best thing you can do to avoid a claim delay is to be accurate with the information you submit to the life insurance company. Also, always be sure to send the carrier an original, certified death certificate, not just a copy. 

Finding Your Loved One’s Last Gift

Following our “how-to” guide can help you find and claim your deceased loved one’s final gift. Most of our family and friends don’t want to talk about leaving behind life insurance coverage, so some beneficiaries may be totally unaware that they’re entitled to a death benefit. We’ve outlined a handful of excellent, free online resources that you can use to track down your endowment. 

The painful period that exists right after someone we love dies is also a good time to evaluate our own life insurance options. Our end-of-life planning platform offers a lot of great insights and strategies. You can also learn more about how much life insurance you may need, as well as easy ways to find the best life insurance policy.

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