Thursday, August 23, 2007

Track Down a Life Insurance Policy

Q - My Father died and we can't find his life insurance policies anywhere. My Mother died years ago and much paperwork had been misplaced. Any way to track down a life insurance policy?

A - Unfortunately, insurance policies are considered private transactions between an insured and the insurer. There is no single repository of life insurance policies that you can search. I'll touch on one service that could help you track down the policy if it's been purchased in the last 15 years or so, but you're really going to have to put on your CSI hat for this one. Most life insurance policies have premiums that need to be paid in order to keep the policy in force. Start any search by looking for the money trail.

First how old was the person who died? Did they die during their working years or after retirement?

For younger working people:

  1. Inquire at their place of work, perhaps they had a group policy or payroll deducted premiums, examine pay stubs and question deductions.
  2. Search check registers and bank statements for cancelled checks or direct withdrawals.
  3. Check with the Financial Advisors or the Property & Casualty agency that handled other investments or lines of business for the deceased; sometimes they keep notes of when they discuss life insurance issues with their insureds.

For older people, the insurance products sold 25 - 30 years ago were a little different than what is popular today. Older people would have been more likely to purchase permanent Whole Life(WL) policies that could stay in force until age 100, give or take a few years. There were a few flavors of WL sold back in the day, some they paid until a pre-determined age (usually 60) other types they paid premiums their entire life. Since WL builds a cash value, the insured had a option to:

  1. Pay premiums, keep policy in force.
  2. Skip premiums and the policy will fund itself from cash value until that runs out.
  3. Cancel policy and keep cash values.

Try to remember any discussion you've had regarding life insurance you had with the deceased. Ask their friends or neighbors if they ever had an insurance conversation with the deceased. This may give hints on where to look. Also:

  1. Check registers, SS or pension checks(for deductions) savings & investment accounts for withdraws.
  2. Check tax returns going back as far as possible (cashing a WL policy is a taxable event)
  3. Rack you brains for mention of a salesman or insurance company. Search orphaned policies on ; if the company merged or was purchased by another company, this link may help.
  4. Check unclaimed property office of the state. As a last resort, insurers pay death benefits to the state office if beneficiaries can't be found.
Finally, for newer policies, you can also check the Medical Information Bureau ( which has a database of all applications for individual life insurance that were processed during the past 10-15 years. The policy locator service costs $75 per search. Good luck in your search.

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