How to Find Out if Someone Has Life Insurance

In this article...
  • When a family member passes away, expenses can add up quickly. Learn how to find out if someone has life insurance and how to start the payout process.

End-of-life expenses can add up quickly, so if a family member has passed away unexpectedly, you may need to find out if they had an active insurance policy. Learn how to find out if someone has life insurance, and what you’ll need to do to claim it if you're named as the beneficiary.

How to Find Out if Someone Has Life Insurance

Although end-of-life planning can be tough to talk about, it's an important topic to discuss with loved ones. Ideally, you should ask your immediate family members if they have life insurance while they’re alive. Knowing who the beneficiaries are and where to find the relevant policy documents can minimize unnecessary financial stress if your loved one dies unexpectedly.

Unfortunately, sometimes loved ones pass away without communicating this critical information. If you think a deceased family member may have had a life insurance policy, and you're unsure of where to start looking, some basic detective work can help you uncover the information you need.

Here are several simple ways you can find out if someone has life insurance.

Look Through Documents

Many policyholders store their life insurance documents with other important paperwork, such as birth certificates and property deeds. If you know where your family member stored important documents, that’s a great place to start. If you aren’t sure where to begin, try looking through:

  • Fire safes
  • Filing cabinets
  • Bank deposit boxes
  • Desk or dresser drawers
  • Under-bed storage containers

When looking through documents, don’t forget to check for digital copies. If you can access your family member’s personal computer, search their folders for PDFs and other digital versions of important policy documents or premium payment receipts.

Check Phone Contacts and Address Books

If you have access to your loved one’s cell phone, check their contacts for accountants, estate planners, financial advisors and insurance agents. If you find contact information for one of these industry professionals, give them a call. They can often provide valuable information about any coverage your loved one had. Even contact information for a home or auto insurance company may be worth pursuing, because multiple policies are sometimes bundled together.

Older relatives or technology-shy individuals may keep their contacts in physical address books or business card organizers, so make sure not to overlook these old-school resources.

Contact Former Employers or Industry Organizations

Group life insurance policies are sometimes purchased as part of an employment benefits package, so a family member's former employers may have information about purchased coverage. 

Unions, fraternal organizations and other membership-based industry groups may also offer benefits to members, including life insurance. If your relative purchased group life insurance through one of these organizations, a record should be on file at the administrative offices.

View Bank and Credit Card Statements

Bank or credit card statements are often an easy way to find records of premium payments.  A quick online search may turn up recent payments, but it may be helpful to visit a local branch for help finding older payments. Tax returns may also list interest payments from a policy.

Watch the Mail

Annual statements and dividend notices may arrive by postal mail, so keep an eye out for anything that may be related to a life insurance policy.

Monitor Email Correspondence

If you can retrieve your relative’s email, monitor it for correspondence from a life insurance company. If they had a policy, they'll probably receive general-interest correspondence or paperless premium notices. Searching their saved email using a keyword phrase such as “life insurance” may net helpful results.

How To Find Out if Someone Has Life Insurance Using Other Channels

If you think your loved one had coverage but you haven't uncovered a policy with your own search, it may be time to seek outside help, which is available through several channels:

  • The State Insurance Commissioner: Although search services aren't currently available in every state, many offer a free search that can turn up lost life insurance policies.
  • The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC): The NAIC's policy locator system prompts participating insurance companies to search their records for insurance policies in the name of your loved one. You can start the search by filling out a brief online form.
  • Private search firms: If you suspect a loved one has a policy but can't find the information, you can hire a private search company. These private entities can contact insurance companies directly and may be able to uncover policies a family member purchased.

What Happens If a Policy Is Unclaimed?

If a person with life insurance coverage dies and the company is unsuccessful in paying out the death benefit, it's considered an unclaimed life insurance policy. This can happen in the following circumstances: 

  • The beneficiaries can't be located
  • The beneficiaries don't know that coverage exists or that they've been named in the policy 
  • The beneficiaries don't know what company issued the policy
  • The insurance company went out of business and another company holds the asset
  • The insurance company doesn't know the policyholder is deceased

  • The policyholder lost contact with the insurance company

In these cases, the death benefit is considered unclaimed property and must be turned over to the state in which the policy was issued. If you think you were a beneficiary of a policy but haven't received payment, visit the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators to find out if they have property belonging to you.

Are Life Insurance Policies Public Record?

Because life insurance death benefits are typically paid to designated beneficiaries, they aren't public record. However, if the benefit isn't claimed and is reported to the state as unclaimed property, it can typically be found on sites that list unclaimed property records by state.

How Do You Initiate Payout on a Life Insurance Policy?

If a family member with life insurance coverage passes away, and you've been named a beneficiary, you'll want to start the payout process. To do so, you'll need copies of two documents:

  • The life insurance policy
  • The insured's death certificate

You can typically request a death certificate through the county coroner's office or the mortuary that handled the burial. In most states, you'll need to show a valid photo ID before you can get a copy of the death certificate. You may also need to prove your relationship to the deceased.

Check with the issuer of the life insurance policy for any additional instructions.