I came across an old article in the New York Times about this topic and thought it worth reviewing.
When someone who purchased a life insurance policy dies, the amount due to the beneficiary is set aside and the insurance company waits to be contacted by that person. After a period of time from two to seven years (it varies by state) has passed with no one coming forward, the money is turned over to the unclaimed property division of the state in which the person died.
Since many people do not know whether a family member who died purchased a life insurance policy in their name, hundreds of millions of dollars go unclaimed. In fact, New York alone, in the period 2000 to a few years ago, received more than $400 million in unclaimed life insurance property and only paid out about $64 million. That means the bulk of that property remains unclaimed and probably will never be claimed.
If a family member has died and you think he or she might have had a life insurance policy, the first thing to do is to check for any payment receipts or check stubs so you can identify the name of the insurance company. Contact that company, ask what their procedure is for filing a claim and then follow their instructions.
If a great deal of time has lapsed, two good places to start are unclaimed.org and MissingMoney.com. If they have no record of any funds, check the website for the unclaimed property department of the state in which the person died.
Don’t leave your money in the state’s coffers. Claim the funds due to you today.
For information about estate planning and other relevant topics, go to www.diesmart.com.
I sold a life insurance policy to my brother in 1977. I left that company after a while, and thought that, over the years, Pete had probably lapsed the policy. Pete died in 2001 at the age of 40, leaving a newborn son and about $25,000 of group life insurance to his widow.
In 2012, I got a letter from Axa, who had merged with the original carrier, asking if anyone knew the whereabouts of the beneficiary named in the policy. We were shocked — 11 years after his death, they learned that Pete had died and tracked me down. I found Pete’s widow and helped her fill out some papers. Axa paid the face amount — plus interest beginning at the date of death. That money will help Pete’s widow raise their son with the money Pete set aside for them.
I think it’s wrong to ascribe a motivation of “cheating” to life insurance companies. It’s not like they can keep the money for their own benefit.
I think the reality is that it’s extremely hard to keep track of insured lives and beneficiaries over decades. Reputable companies do a terrific job tracking people down and paying if they can find the beneficiary.
I know companies that sell life insurance policies fully intend for the heirs to receive the benefits that were paid for but it’s often tough to track people down in our mobile society. Thanks for sharing a story with a happy ending.