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   Every year millions of dollars in life insurance death benefits go uncollected.  Both the insurer and the insured can lose track of each other.  One Boston insurer recently came under fire in the press for “losing track” of over 800,000 policyowners.  There are millions of insurance policies that are “lost” and you are not alone in trying to track down a “lost” policy.

   Many people do not realize that some life insurance policies can continue to be in-force even after they borrow money from them or even stop paying the premiums.  Even cancelled policies can have residual value depending on the non-forfeiture option selected.  As a result, beneficiaries can be left sifting through paperwork for old policies that the paperwork was mistakenly thrown-out long ago.

   Unfortunately there is no one database listing all insurance policies issued to help you in your search.  To find a policy you must know whom the policy is with and certain key confidential information about the owner.  If you are beginning your search knowing only that your loved-one had a policy, but not sure who it was with, then you have over two thousand possible companies to contact.  This is a huge task and there is little assistance available on what to do and where to start.

   In looking for a lost policy everyone first assumes an insurance company is the place to look.  There are actually five places to look and the insurance companies are only one of them. 

  1. Insurance Companies- There are over 2000 possible companies that issue individual life insurance policies.
  2. Employer- A frequent benefit is a group life policy.  Since, technically the employer is the policyowner you must contact the employer.  The insurance company does not keep the records on the individuals covered.
  3. Financial Institutions- Many banks, credit cards and other financial service providers offer insurance to their customers- sometimes it was free.
  4. Associations- Many membership groups and professional associations also offer insurance benefits.
  5. The State- State abandoned property offices collect huge numbers of abandoned insurance benefits every year to hold until the true owner can be found.


   The process of contacting insurance companies is strait-forward, but time consuming.  Find the company and ask if there is a policy.  If there is then you ask for the appropriate forms to make a claim.  The information you will need to have available is:

  1. Name On Record
  2. Social Security Number
  3. Address On Record
  4. Policy Number

   You may not need all four.  A lost policy can often be found if you have the name and Social Security number or only the policy number.  Be aware that the insurance company may not have the right name or address on record.  People get married and move.  You need to be prepared with any maiden name or prior address. 

   If you do not know which insurance company the policy was with, then who do you contact?  There are about 2000 life insurance companies in the U.S.  The top 100 largest insurance companies do account for over 90% of all policies sold.  The top 100 is therefore a good place to start.  There are no guarantees you will find that lost policy unless you search all the companies.  Each insurance company has their own records and they do not share the names of policyholders among themselves.  You can contact your state’s Department of Insurance to find out what companies are licensed to sell insurance in your state.  Individual states can have over 500 companies licensed to do business there.  Many people are known to buy a policy while on a business trip or at lunch while in a different state.

   Unless you check with all of them you may be missing the one company a policy is with.  Also, if you do find one policy, remember that many people have several policies with different companies.  Do not stop with the first company you find a policy with.


   Many employers offer their employees group insurance coverage as a benefit.  If the insured died while coverage was in effect you may be entitled as a beneficiary.  Even if the employee was retired the group insurance coverage may have been extended.  After an employee leaves to work elsewhere, many group insurance contracts allow the employee to continue coverage on an individual basis- sometimes called a “group conversion”.  Make a list of every employer and contact their human resource or benefits department.  Just because an employer does not offer insurance benefits now does not mean they did not offer it back when the person was employed there.  Be persistent.  With these “group contracts” the life insurance company does not keep track of the individual employees.  Technically the employer is the insured and the employee is just one of the group.


   Many other places sell or offer life insurance.  Banks, credit cards, and professional associations often do.  Both my bank and credit card gives me small but free policies just for having accounts with them.  The paperwork can be easily lost since they are often free or low cost.  Make a list of these organizations that your loved-one had accounts with.  Then contact them.  These are also often “group contracts”.


   Eventually many lost policies that still have value end up with the state.  State laws differ, but if the insurance contract had value in it, and this is not necessarily the face value, after a certain length of inactivity the money is turned over to the state.  The idea is it is not the insurance companies money so it should be used for the public good until the true owner claims it.  You can contact the state unclaimed or abandoned property office to see if they are holding any money from the policy.  Many states even allow you to do a search with them on-line.


   There is new hope for finding unpaid life insurance policy benefits issued by European companies.

   Relatives of those killed in the Holocaust have had special difficulties collecting death benefits on European life insurance policies.  Death claims are very difficult to make when all policy paperwork was destroyed by bombings and the additional fact that death certificates do not exist for those killed in concentration camps.  For years there have been efforts to ease the burden of proof required to claim these death benefits.

   The International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims has been joined by several European insurance companies.  It’s purpose is to assist heirs of those who held unpaid insurance policies, the records of which were either lost or destroyed during the mass genocide and destruction of World War II.  The “Tools” page of this website contains a special section and links on finding these policies.


   You may be approached by someone offering to do the search for you.  There are an increasing number of people claiming to be “professional” unclaimed property locators.  Usually they do not focus on insurance policies.  This has been a major problem in the past.  The government is trying to regulate this activity to curb the abuses.  Anybody can say they are an expert finder of lost policies, claim to have done it for others, say there is no fee unless found and even allege to have “contacts” at insurance companies.

   Hiring them with the attitude, nothing risked, nothing to lose, is dangerous.  You must give them confidential information to have them do the search properly. 

   Learn what they will and will not do for you.  Ask them where they search.  How many insurance companies do they contact?  There are currently about 2000 life insurance companies selling individual policies.  For the fee they charge do they contact as many as you want them to?  Will they even tell you how many they contact?  If they say they have friends in the industry of “contacts” then ask how many and where?  If you do not like their answer then do not hire them.  Do they also search for group policies with associations and employers?  Do they contact the state abandoned property offices?  The important point here is to know what you are and are not buying.  If you do not ask and they come back and say there are no policies in that persons name, you would not know what they skipped. 

   Ask them how much they charge.  Do they charge a flat fee, a percentage or both?  If you hire someone on a percentage basis you could be shocked to find you are liable to pay the whole amount even if it turns out you are one of many beneficiaries.  For example, if you agree to a 30% finders fee and it turns out you are one of three beneficiaries, you would end up paying the 30% fee out of your 33% share of the benefit! 

   Also check to see if what they charge is even legal! Your state law governs this.  In Massachusetts, they can never charge more than 10% and in other situations it must be FREE.  Since I frequently see “expert finders” charging as much as 30%, make sure you are not being overcharged illegally. 


   Now you are ready to proceed to the "Tool Kit" to get started.