published Sunday, November 10th, 2013

Consumer Watch: Make sure to check on life insurance benefits


by Ellen Phillips

I want to share this with your readers. I recently received a $3,000 disbursement from an insurance policy that I knew nothing about and certainly didn’t know I was the beneficiary. You can bet I’ve checked to see if other monies were waiting for me to find them, too.

— Pauline Payment

Dear Ms. Payment: Although I’ve written in the past about how to find assets from a variety of sources, such as government agencies like the IRS, pension plans or as a beneficiary of a deceased person’s will, I didn’t really speak to insurance policies. So after investigating this particular briar patch of benefits, I discovered at least $1 BILLION are waiting to be claimed from misplaced or forgotten life insurance policies. So what can we do to search for a lost policy? Thanks to Consumer Reports for the following help:

1. Check close to home. If a close relative died more than a few years ago, you can assume benefits have already been turned over to the state so go online to www.missingmoney.com. (This is the same site I recommended previously to find lost assets.) This site enables us to search records from 38 states, the Canadian provinces, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. If you do get a hit, be prepared to prove your claim. For instance, a death certificate is probably necessary.

2. Contact the insurance company. While the deceased’s immediate family and executor have the right to access the claim and have the greatest legal standing, the company still will send out a packet to verify you’re a true beneficiary and, therefore, can collect. Obviously, the more information you have, the better: approximate date of birth and death, Social Security number, policy number, and so forth.

3. Scour personal records. If someone recently died and you have authority to search his or her files, look for policies, records of premium payments, or bills from the insurer. Take it a step further and contact the deceased’s employers or organizations. Find and open safe deposit boxes. Monitor mail, email, online banking, and bill-payment services for premium invoices or whole life dividend notices.

4. Watch out for scammers. Bogus groups are offering to reunite consumers with unclaimed property to the tune of up to $600 for “up-front fees.” If you receive a solicitation reportedly from an insurer, do not reply to the phone number or web site listed in the correspondence. Look up the phone number or web address to contact via that way And for heaven’s sake as always, avoid giving out any personal information over the phone, unless you’ve instigated the call and trust the person at the other end.

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. She may be reached at consumerwatch@timesfreepress.com.

about Ellen Phillips...

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business.

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