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How to find if a life insurance policy exists

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

If you have lost a friend or loved one, you may be wondering how to find out if a life insurance policy exists. It would be great if there was a national database you could plug your name into and find out in seconds if you’re a beneficiary, but there is no website to find out if someone has life insurance. Getting the answers to your questions may take some work.

Since it’s not a requirement to let beneficiaries know that they are mentioned in a policy, you may not even know that someone has left you this money. So how to find a deceased person’s life insurance policy? Let’s take a look at the best way to go about it.

Steps to find out if someone has life insurance

Your first job is to answer the question, how to find if a life insurance policy exists? There is some sleuthing you can do to help you find out if there is a policy in place:

  • Obtain the death certificate
  • Talk to family and friends
  • Search personal belongings
  • Check mail/email
  • Online search
  • Review the death certificate
  • Talk to bankers, financial advisors or insurers

Obtain the death certificate

Most of the places where you’ll be searching will require you to present the death certificate, and possibly the deceased’s social security number, in order for a search to be done. If you find out that you are a beneficiary, you’ll need to present a copy of the death certificate to the insurer to prove that the policyholder is deceased.

You may be able to get a death certificate from a member of the family or the executor of the estate. If not, contact the county or state vital records office where the death occurred. The procedure varies from state to state, but this is a good place to start.

Talk to family and friends

Another good place to start is to ask questions of those who knew the deceased well. A spouse, children or good friends may have heard the person talk about their life insurance and how they hoped the death benefit would help someone. 

You may not find out hard facts this way — such as the policy number — but if you’re not even sure a policy exists, you could confirm that fact with a simple conversation. One person to definitely include on your list is the deceased’s executor, if there is one. They may be able to bring your search to a quick and easy end if the policy documents are with the will and other end-of-life papers.

Search personal belongings

If the deceased is a close family member, it may be easy to search through their desk and other personal belongings. If it’s not a family member, it may be a bit more challenging.

Let’s say, for example, that you believe your best friend named you in his life insurance policy. You may have to speak to his spouse to find out more information and gain permission to look for the policy.

At the very least, this requires tact and compassion, as she will be grieving the loss of her husband. You’ll want to assure her that you’re only trying to ensure that his wishes are carried out, whether you benefit from it or not.

Check mail and email

Again, this is often easier with a family member, when you have access to their home and computer. What you’re looking for are billing statements, account summaries and other communications from the insurance company that holds the policy. 

If it’s a term policy, the deceased would have been making payments, and you should be able to find a record of that. If it was a form of permanent insurance, the payments may have been coming out of the policy’s cash value, but there should still be annual summary statements.

Online search

As we said, there’s no easy website database that lets you find out if you’re the beneficiary of a policy — but there are places to look online. Your first stop should be the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ life insurance policy locator. With a minimum of information on you and the deceased, the NAIC will perform a free search of insurers to find out if there are any active policies.

Other helpful resources include the website of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators and missingmoney.com, which works with U.S. (and some Canadian) locations to help match people up with money that may be owed to them from various sources.

Talk to bankers, financial advisors, or insurers

Although privacy regulations may govern how much a banking official can tell you about the deceased’s finances (unless you’re the executor), you may be able to glean some information from them. It may pay to talk to the deceased’s financial advisor or accountant, or even their regular insurance agent.

If you are executor or next of kin, you may have access to safety deposit boxes or other private storage areas that could yield important information. If you’re not in a position to access them, see if you can get permission from those in the deceased’s inner circle who may be able to get to them.

Touch base with employers, fraternal organizations, and other groups

Often, employers will offer a simple life insurance policy as a benefit for employees. If the deceased was in the workforce, or even if they were retired, it is helpful to check with former employers.

Some organizations offer group life insurance, too. Labor unions, professional organizations and more can provide this as a benefit of membership. If you know of any organizations that the deceased belonged to, contact them and find out if there’s a possibility that your loved one held a policy through them.

How to find a copy of the insurance policy

Once you determine that there is indeed a life insurance policy, you’ll need to read through it. Hopefully, you’ve discovered the company that holds the policy, so your first step would be to call the company’s claim number and ask if you are a beneficiary on the deceased’s policy. If so, you should be able to receive a copy of the policy.

To do this, you may need to present the following:

  • Your name, contact information and social security number
  • The deceased’s name (including maiden name, if applicable) and social security number
  • A death certificate
  • Proof of your relationship with the deceased

Who can request information about a life insurance policy?

Even though your loved one may be deceased, privacy regulations control who can request information on their finances. In general, the only ones who will have ready access to financial information such as policy documents include:

  • The executor of the estate, if one has been named
  • The deceased’s next of kin — usually a spouse, parent or child
  • Named beneficiaries to any life insurance policies

Until you know for sure that you are a beneficiary, your access will be limited. Your best bet may be to approach one of the individuals listed above and explain your concerns to them. If you have reason to believe that you may be named in a policy, share that information. 

What do I need to make a life insurance claim?

Once you have determined that you are, in fact, a beneficiary, you do not necessarily need to connect with the next of kin or executor. If you have a copy of the policy document or other proof that you’ve been named a beneficiary, you should be able to go to the insurance company and make your claim.

Materials that you would need to present include all the items on our list above, including your own name, contact information and social security number, as well as a death certificate and information on the deceased. Armed with this information, you should be able to start the process of closing out the account and gaining your money.

What happens if no one claims the money?

If no one claims the payout on a life insurance policy within a certain amount of time, insurers are required to turn the unclaimed benefits over to the state’s unclaimed property office, which is generally a subsidiary of the state treasurer’s office. 

Most states require life insurance companies to make a good faith effort to locate all beneficiaries, as well as checking regularly with a central listing called the Death Master File to ensure that they know when a policyholder has died.

In most states, the law allows several years to pass before insurers turn over the funds to the state. At that point, you would need to contact your state’s unclaimed property office to inquire about how you might access your benefits.

Can you be a beneficiary and not know it?

To put it simply: yes, you can be a beneficiary and have no idea that you’ve been named on the policy. A friend might want to honor you with a gift or a grandparent might want to ensure you are taken care of in the future — but not want you to know about it.

Usually, when the deceased dies, the insurer will find out about it from the family or the Master Death File and you will be contacted by the company in a timely manner. Occasionally, that doesn’t happen, and then you’ll need to be a detective to find out the details on the deceased’s financial situation — and their wishes regarding any money they leave behind. 

The takeaway

  • You may be the beneficiary of a life insurance policy and not know it.
  • Finding out requires sleuthing: talking to family and friends, checking mail and email and looking for other clues that there’s a policy you’re named in.
  • Once you have the policy in hand, it’s a simple matter to file a claim with the insurer.

Millions of dollars of life insurance benefits go unclaimed each year because beneficiaries have no idea that they’ve been named in the policy. How to find out if someone has life insurance? You’ll want to search out the details of the policy and see if you’re named. Organizations like the National Association of Insurance Commissioners can help you to determine if your deceased loved one left you a payout.  

Mary Van Keuren

After 30 years as a writer and editor in academia, Mary now writes full-time for the insurance and finance industries. Her work has appeared on Reviews.com, TheSimpleDollar.com and Bankrate.com, as well as other consumer-focused websites.

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