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How to file a life insurance claim

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

If your loved one has obtained a life insurance policy and has passed, you may find yourself wondering how to file a claim and receive their death benefit. Dealing with insurance can be the last thing on your mind when you’re grieving from a loss, so in this article, we’ll explain step-by-step how the claim filing process works to make things easier. 

Steps for filing a life insurance claim

Filing a life insurance claim is a bit different than filing a home or auto insurance claim. Not only do you need to validate the policyholder’s death, but you also have to confirm your status as a legal beneficiary. Each insurance company has a specific process, but here’s a general idea of what to expect.

Get a copy of the death certificate

The first step is to request a copy of the policyholder’s death certificate from the funeral home or your local vital records office as you will need it when you file the claim. You can either pick up a copy of the certificate in person, or have one mailed to your home. Mundane tasks like calling around for paperwork can be a lot to handle when you’re dealing with loss, so consider asking friends or family to help out with this.

Contact the insurance company

Next, you’ll want to contact the life insurance company and formally notify them of the claim. An agent will then walk you through the specific steps of filing a claim, and inform you of what to expect throughout the process. The agent will also send you paperwork that needs to be completed before the claim can get reviewed. If you or your loved one worked with a specific agent in the past, you can typically request to work with them for the clam since they are more likely familiar with the policy.

Fill out necessary paperwork

Depending on the insurance company, you’ll either receive the paperwork electronically, or in the mail. Typically, you’ll submit a copy of the policyholder’s death certificate when you send back the paperwork. You might also be required to submit your name, contact information, social security number, and a copy of your driver’s license to confirm your status as a beneficiary. This is also when you’ll decide how you want to receive the death benefit payment.

Wait for approval

The last step is to wait for the claim to get approved. This process usually takes at least a few weeks, and up to a few months, depending on the circumstances. During this time, the insurance company will validate the death certification, confirm that you are the legal beneficiary, and verify that the policy is still active. 

How are life insurance claims paid?

As a beneficiary, you are entitled to the death benefit after the policyholder passes away and you can choose how you receive it. 

Lump sum

If you want the money all at once, you can opt for the lump sum payment. You’ll receive the full death benefit on one check, useful for paying for funeral costs or to settle any outstanding debts.

Installment

The other option is to receive the death benefit in installments over a period of time. With this option, the insurance company will hold the money and invest it. You can request portions of the money, plus the interest it earns, at your convenience.

Can a life insurance claim be denied? 

Experiencing the loss of a loved one can be incredibly difficult. Having a life insurance claim be denied adds to the stress of things. When that happens, the insurance company usually gives the beneficiary the value of the paid premiums, but not the death benefit. Although it’s not common, there are a variety of situations that could result in a rejected life insurance claim.

Contestability

According to financial expert Laura Adams

“A life insurance claim can be denied if the death occurs during the contestability period, which typically lasts for two years after a policy is purchased. During this period, your insurer can carefully investigate your case and refuse a payout if there is any false information on your life insurance application.” 

Contestability is essentially when the policyholder lies to the insurance company. Most often, people lie about their age, their lifestyle, and their pre-existing health risks. It’s much easier for young and healthy people to get life insurance, and some people lie if they think they won’t get approved otherwise.

“For instance, if you didn’t disclose being a smoker or having a dangerous hobby, such as scuba diving or race car driving, an insurer can deny a life insurance claim. They can refuse to make a payment during the contestability period even if the cause of death is unrelated to fraudulent information you submitted on your life insurance application,” Adams stated.

Cause of death

Certain causes of death are usually not covered by life insurance. For example, most insurance companies have a suicide clause, which says that a suicide death won’t be covered within the first two years of the policy. If the policyholder is the victim of homicide, the insurance company will often require the beneficiaries to be cleared of any wrongdoing before they get the death benefit.

Missed payments

If the policyholder stops making their life insurance payments, the beneficiaries might not qualify for their death benefit. To keep a life insurance policy active, the policyholder must keep up with the established payment schedule, whether it’s annually or monthly. As soon as the payments stop, certain benefits (like the death benefit) can no longer be claimed.

The takeaway

  • Filing a life insurance claim is typically fairly simple, but it involves some paperwork
  • If you’re eligible for a policyholder’s death benefit, you can choose your payout preference.
  • It’s possible for a life insurance claim to get rejected, but it’s uncommon.

The death of a loved one is always a difficult experience and likely, the least of your priorities is filing an insurance claim. Ask a friend or family member to help you gather the necessary paperwork, contact the insurance company and get the process started. Assuming the claim is approved, you’ll get the death benefit payout in several weeks to help with paying off funeral costs and other debts.

Elizabeth Rivelli

Elizabeth is an insurance writer for coverage.com, where she covers insurance providers and reviews policies to help consumers find comprehensive and affordable coverage for every area of their life. She has more than three years of writing experience for top online insurance and finance publications.

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