Dear Savvy Senior: When my father passed away we thought he had a life insurance policy, but we haven't been able to track it down. Do you know of any resources that might help? - Searching Family
Dear Searching: Lost or forgotten life-insurance policies are actually quite common in the U.S. In fact, it's estimated that around $1 billion in benefits from unclaimed life-insurance policies are waiting to be claimed by their rightful beneficiaries.
While unfortunately, there isn't a national database for tracking down these policies, there are a number of strategies and a few new resources that can help your search. Here are several to get you started.
Search records: If your dad died recently, searching through his financial records is a good first step. Check his files for a policy, records of premium payments, or bills from an insurer. Also contact his employer or former employer benefits administrator, insurance agents, financial planner, accountant, attorney or other adviser and ask if they know about a life insurance policy. Also check safe-deposit boxes, monitor the mail for premium invoices or whole-life dividend notices, and review old income-tax returns, looking for interest income from, and interest expenses paid to life-insurance companies.
Contact the insurer: If you suspect that a particular insurer underwrote the policy, contact that carrier's claim office and ask. The more information you have, like your dad's date of birth and death, Social Security number and address, the easier it will be to track down. Contact information of some big insurers include: Prudential 800-778-2255; MetLife metlife.com/policyfinder; AIG 800-888-2452; Nationwide 800-848-6331; Forethought 800-331-8853; John Hancock johnhancock.com – click on "Contact Us" then on "Account Search Request."
Get state help: Some state insurance departments have a policy locator service program that can help you locate lost life insurance, or offer resources that can help you with your search. To reach your state insurance department, see the National Association of Insurance Commissioners website at naic.org - click on "States & Jurisdictions Map."
Search unclaimed property: If your dad died more than a few years ago, benefits may have already been turned over to the unclaimed property office of the state where the policy was purchased. Go to missingmoney.com, a website of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, to search records from 38 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The pull-down menu under Links connects you to a map and addresses for unclaimed-property agencies. Or, to find links to each state's unclaimed-property division use unclaimed.org.
If your dad's name or a potential benefactor's name produces a hit, you'll need to prove your claim. Required documentation, which can vary by state, is detailed in claim forms, and a death certificate might be necessary. If you need a copy of your dad's death certificate, contact the vital records office in the state where he died, or go to vitalchek.com.
Tap MIB database: The MIB Group Inc., an insurance membership corporation whose main purpose is fighting fraud, offers a policy locator service to help consumers in their searches for life insurance policies. This service, however, only tracks applications for individual policies made since 1996. The service costs $75, requires an original death certificate to get the ball rolling, and takes about seven to 10 days to produce a report. To learn more, visit policylocator.com.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.