Dear Savvy Senior: When my mom passed away we thought she had a life insurance policy, but we have no idea how to track it down. Do you know of any resources that might help? — Searching Susan
Dear Susan: Lost or forgotten life insurance policies are very common in the U.S. It’s estimated that more than $7 billion in benefits from unclaimed life insurance policies are waiting to be claimed by their rightful beneficiaries.
While unfortunately, there isn’t a national database for tracking down these policies, there are a number of strategies and a few new resources that can help your search. Here are several to get you started.
SEARCH HER RECORDS
Check your mom’s financial records or storage areas where she kept her important papers for a policy, records of premium payments, or bills from an insurer. Also contact her employer or former employer benefits administrator, insurance agents, financial planner, accountant, attorney or other adviser and ask if they know about a life insurance policy.
Also check safe-deposit boxes, monitor the mail for premium invoices or whole-life dividend notices, and review old income-tax returns, looking for interest income from, and interest expenses paid, to life insurance companies.
CONTACT THE INSURER
If you suspect that a particular insurer underwrote the policy, contact that carrier’s claim office and ask. The more information you have, like your mom’s date of birth and death, Social Security number and address, the easier it will be to track down.
Contact information of some big insurers include: Prudential 800-778-2255; MetLife Metlife.com/policyfinder; AIG 800-888-2452; Nationwide 800-848-6331; John Hancock JohnHancock.com – click on “Contact Us” then on “Account Search Request.”
GET STATE HELP
Nineteen state insurance departments have a policy locator service program that can help you locate lost life insurance (Hawaii is not among them), and many other states offer resources that can help you with your search.
To find direct access to these resources visit the American Council of Life Insurers website at ACLI.com/consumers – click on “Missing Policy Tips.”
SEARCH UNCLAIMED PROPERTY
If your mom died more than a few years ago, benefits may have already been turned over to the unclaimed property office of the state where the policy was purchased.
Go to MissingMoney.com, a website of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, to search records from 40 states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. (Hawaii is not among the 40 states, but the website does provide information on Hawaii’s Department of Budget and Finance Unclaimed Property Program.) Or, to find links to each state’s unclaimed-property division use Unclaimed.org.
If your mom’s name or a potential benefactor’s name produces a hit, you’ll need to prove your claim. Required documentation, which can vary by state, is detailed in claim forms, and a death certificate might be necessary. If you need a copy of your mom’s death certificate, contact the vital records office in the state where she died, or go to VitalChek.com.
SEARCH FEE-BASED SERVICES
There are several businesses that offer policy locator services for a fee. The MIB Group, for example, which is a data-sharing service for life and health insurance companies, offers a policy locator service at PolicyLocator.com for $75. But it only tracks applications for individual policies made since 1996.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.