How Can I Locate a Lost Term, Whole Universal, Or High Risk Life Insurance Policy?

You recall hearing an airline pilot friend say she bought high-risk life insurance to help cover her children’s college fund, but she is now deceased, and no one knows who the underwriter is. Or, a bereaved widow swears that even though her husband had a whole life insurance policy (or was it a term life insurance policy?), he also had a secondary, universal life insurance policy, but he didn’t leave any information about it in his will. Time and again, we hear woeful tales of lost life insurance policies.

In many such cases, finding a missing policy could mean the difference between bankruptcy and financial security. The grieving survivors are caught in a guessing game, because, sadly, there is no comprehensive national or statewide database that keeps track of life insurance policies.

FreeAdvice.com and the Insurance Information Institution (III) both recommend steps to take and places to look.

If you know who underwrote the deceased’s health, business or even child life insurance, then you’ve got a leg up. Contact that company and ask.

If the main insurer does not show a term life insurance or whole life insurance policy (be sure to ask about lesser-known policies, such as variable life insurance or no-load life insurance), then contact past and present financial advisors, investment bankers, insurance agents, attorneys, business partners or personal friends known to offer financial advice.

If none of that works, then contact former employees, credit unions, trade groups or even automobile/roadside assistance groups.

Go through all files, safe deposit boxes, storage units, attics, basements or secret nooks you can recall. Scour old address books, bank and checkbook statements or old calendars that may offer hints.

If you have access to the deceased’s previous life-insurance applications or even a current, known policy, that information will help. Any known policy should have the application attached to it-and that will contain a list of other life insurance policies owned at the time of the application.

If you still cannot locate the policy, don’t give up. The Missing Policy Service of the American Council of Life Insurance, 1001 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004-2599 will accept a written request to help locate the policy. Include a self-addressed business size envelope. They will distribute your request to nearly 100 large life insurance companies in an effort to locate the lost policy.

Keep in mind, however, as Free Advice’s “lost life insurance” columnists say, “without knowing more information, there are several possibilities regarding the status of a policy. … It could have lapsed, been cashed in, become a “paid-up policy” or gone to the state as unclaimed assets. … In the first three cases, the policy would no longer have any value. If it became a paid-up policy, it could still have value, but with no company name and no policy information, it becomes very difficult to track down. If it were inadvertently taken by the state under the “escheat law” (which applies when the insurer can’t locate the owner), you may be able to locate the proper branch of government to inquire. The state must reimburse it if the money transferred under escheat.

Another good approach, Free Advice experts say, is to write to several of the largest life-insurance underwriters directly with the deceased’s name, address and birth date. If you’re lucky, they’ll have something. If you’re semi-lucky, one of the companies may offer additional sleuthing suggestions.

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