If you can't find the life insurance policy of a deceased loved one, there are several ways to broaden a search.

Knowing there's a life insurance policy somewhere but not being able to find it can be a serious financial problem. If you can't make a claim for a life insurance payout, you could be stuck for years hoping that the life insurance company tries to find you.

Here are documents you can review, agencies and people you can contact, and services to find a lost life insurance policy.

How to find lost life insurance

Look for documents that can help you find the policy

  • Other insurance documents: Even if you can't find the life insurance policy, you might be able to find the name of the life insurance agent who sold the policy. You might even find a trail through the insurance agent that sold an auto or home insurance policy. That agent may know which company sold it.
  • Life insurance applications: Finding another policy could be helpful in locating others, if the deceased had more than one policy. Applications are typically attached to the back of a policy and may list other policies owned at the time of the application.
  • Bank statements: Look for payments (automated withdrawals or checks) to life insurance companies.
  • Mail: Keep an eye out for life insurance statements or bills in the deceased person's mail. If the policy was billed annually and recently paid, you may have to wait up to a year for the next bill to arrive.

Ask people and agencies that might know about the lost policy

  • Financial advisors: A person's accountant, investment advisor, attorney or other financial professional might know about the existence of life insurance policies.
  • Employer: Call the deceased’s employer to find out if they had a group life insurance policy through work. Note that group life insurance policies generally end on the last day of work. If the deceased person had left the job, it's unlikely there will be workplace life insurance.
  • Banks: There could be a policy copy in a safe deposit box at a bank. You'll need to be the estate executor to check the safe deposit box. You can also ask the bank if the deceased person purchased any life insurance policies through them.
  • State unclaimed property office: When a life insurance company suspects a policyholder has died but they can't locate the beneficiaries, eventually it will turn the money over to the state's unclaimed property office. A good place to start is the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.

Use services to find a lost life insurance policy

  • MIB Group: For a $75 fee, MIB Group offers a Policy Locator Service. More than 400 insurance companies use MIB Group to verify information in life insurance applications. MIB's database contains information on certain individual life insurance policies and goes back to Jan. 1, 1996. Policies sold before that won't be in the database, nor will guaranteed issue life insurance policies or small policies ($100,000 and below).
  • The National Association of Insurance Commissioners: The NAIC offers a free Life Insurance Locator service. The NAIC will ask all participating companies to search their records, no matter what state the policy was purchased in.

Tips to avoid a lost life insurance policy

If you have a life insurance policy, it's important to let your beneficiaries know about it. You don't want to leave them searching for it -- and possibly being unable to find it and claim the money. Here are tips:

  • Tell your beneficiaries: You can save them months of searching by letting them know a policy exists. To start a claim they only need the name of the life insurance company.
  • Use the American Council of Life Insurers' My Personal Insurance Log: This tool can help keep track of life insurance, retirement savings plans and other finances. You can share this information with your family. "The only people who will see this information are consumers who complete the form and those they choose to share it with," says Whit Cornman, spokesperson for the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI), a trade group. He notes that the organization will not have access to the information.
  • Do not store a policy in a safe deposit box: The ACLI recommends that you do not store life insurance policies in a safe deposit box. In many states, the boxes are sealed upon death, which could delay payment if your beneficiaries are looking for the policy.

FAQ

Do life insurance companies contact beneficiaries?

Life insurance companies do try to contact beneficiaries when they know a customer has died, but it’s possible their contact information is limited or outdated. For example, if your policy was taken out decades ago and your beneficiaries have moved, it can be difficult to track them down.

Be sure to provide detailed information about your beneficiary, including their full name, date of birth and Social Security number. If your beneficiary moves, it’s a good idea to let your life insurance company know.

How long after a death do you have to collect life insurance?

There’s no time limit for when you must file a claim for life insurance. The death benefit typically gains interest until the life insurance company can find the beneficiary or a claim is filed. Once a claim is filed, the payout is usually within 30 days of the claim, but can be as quick as seven to 10 days if you submit all the necessary documents.

What happens to unclaimed life insurance money?

Unclaimed life insurance money eventually gets turned over to the state where the deceased was last known to live. The timeframe for this depends on the state’s laws on unclaimed property. Here is a directory of each state’s unclaimed property department.