Determining whether your mother had a life insurance policy at the time of her death can be a frustrating task. Not only are issues of beneficiaries and money at stake, but an existing policy may contain provisions that pay immediate death benefits, such as funeral and burial costs. Although policyholders are encouraged and reminded to make their death-time paperwork --- wills and insurance policies especially --- known to a friend or loved one, this often isn't the case. If you're faced with such a situation, there are some common-sense measures you can take to find out if a policy exists.
Start at home --- the home of the deceased person. Most people file away a life insurance policy and never actually touch it once the policy is in force. They receive bills and statements from the insurance company and pay their premiums, but the long-forgotten policy is in a drawer or file cabinet. Search the home, looking in table and dresser drawers, file cabinets, safes and even under mattresses. Most people have a central location where they deposit paperwork that's rarely accessed, such as warranties for appliances, old utility bills and receipts, and other nonessential correspondence. Even if you don't find a policy, you might run across bills, receipts or other evidence of a policy.
If you find a savings passbook or bank statements, call a bank to search for any checks or direct payments that can be traced to a life insurance company. Cancelled checks and credit card statements also may provide clues.
Review the person's will. Sometimes the insurance company's name will appear in a will, especially if no heirs or beneficiaries were named and the policy's benefits are to be paid to the estate. A lawyer or other people named in the will also may know about a life insurance policy.
Contact a representative of another insurance company that the deceased used. Many people prefer to deal with one insurance company for all their insurance needs, so if you know who her car, health or homeowner insurance company was, you may be in luck.
Check with the decedent's former employer. There may have been a benefit paid through an employer-sponsored policy. Also check any associations the deceased person may have had, such as social fraternities, retirement homes, clubs or senior affiliations such as AARP. The deceased may have had several life insurance policies through various sources.
Call the person's lawyer, if she had one. Also contact a tax preparer. They may have insurance information.
Ask any friends or family members about the possible existence of a life insurance policy. Neighbours, hairdressers, mailmen, home aides or shopkeepers may also have clues to the person's finances.
Contact the Medical Information Bureau (MIB). The MIB provides a Find Lost Life Insurance service for £48 per search. MIB's database contains more than 170 million records, and the decedent's name is searched against a policy database with records of inquiries submitted on individual life insurance applications processed during the previous 14 years.
No central life insurance database exists, and since insurance policies are private information, it's difficult to access official institutional help. Many people --- an estimated 30 per cent, according to a Trends in Life Insurance Ownership survey cited in an MSN Money report --- have no life insurance, and that figure is on the rise. Write the American Council of Life Insurance Information Services, which provides services similar to the MIB.
Make sure that the policy is paid up or was in force at death. You may have to speak with the insurance company or make arrangements to change or convert the policy to "extended term" or "reduced paid up" status. Or the company may have already done so.