How can I find a deceased person's annuity or life insurance policy?
UPDATED: December 16, 2019
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There are a number of techniques that can be used to find missing annuity and life insurance accounts, but first, it may be helpful to understand the different types of life insurance policies.
Types of Life Insurance Policies
The two types of life insurance policies are whole and term. Whole life insurance policies, or annuities, are slowly accumulated through savings over the lifetime of a person. These policies send out annual updates informing the insured how much coverage is available and how much interest accrued. Policies of this type are entered into contractually and are tax deductible.
Term life insurance policies cost less over the lifetime of the person, but offer no coverage once a person stops paying. Term life insurance is typically paid on a monthly basis. Some companies may send a monthly invoice through the mail, while others simply send an annual renewal notice.
How to Find Missing Annuity or Life Insurance Documents
If an account is missing from a deceased person's gathered and listed assets, the first place to start is at their home. Go through the person’s files and papers and look for signs of payments to any companies. Additional places to check in the home include address books, used checkbooks, and any bill paying ledgers. Bring a list of known insurance accounts and write down the names of any new insurance companies that you find. Contact these companies and inquire about accounts under the individual’s name.
Next, contact the person’s past places of employment. Start with the most recent one, as many people roll over annuity accounts when they change employers. If there is nothing there, contact other previous employers. If the person was in the military, contact the veteran's affairs office. For those who were in a union, such as teachers or firefighters, contact the union’s office.
Digging a Little Deeper
If you have an official certificate of death, you can start digging a little deeper to find any missing accounts. Start with the IRS. While this may seem unlikely, current accounts that the person was paying into will be listed on their most recent tax return. This call can also serve a second purpose, as a form for the person’s final income tax filing will be required at some point anyway.
Next, contact the person’s bank(s) and if they had one, their broker. Inquire about all accounts with the establishments. Brokers tend to especially be in the know because they keep track of the person’s portfolio. You might also consider checking with older banks that the person used. The best way to find these is with the old checkbooks uncovered back at the house.
What Happens if I Don’t Find the Annuity or Insurance Documents?
When all else fails, continue faithfully checking the deceased person’s mail for at least a year after their death. This way if any term policies expired due to non-payment or annuity documents arrive, you’ll have the information and point of contact you need. If nothing turns up in the mail, contact the state’s unclaimed property office. This office takes charge of funds that were never claimed after a certain number of years by insurance companies.
If all of these options have been exhausted, it is likely that you’re not dealing with a non-existent policy, but rather the policy was rolled over at some point into another annuity or allowed to expire. For further assistance in locating missing accounts or dealing with (and distributing) a deceased person’s assets, contact an estate planning attorney.