Navigating the life insurance process after someone’s death can be difficult. In the process of grieving, there are essential steps to take to settle the estate. Understanding who the life insurance beneficiaries are may not be as straightforward as you might think, though. Typically there is a primary beneficiary, but there may be a contingent or non-entity named in the policy.
What is a Beneficiary?
According to the Insurance Information Institute, a beneficiary is the person or entity you name in a life insurance policy to receive the death benefit. A beneficiary can be a spouse, children, business partners, charitable organizations, or a trust. Many people set up a life insurance policy and name a beneficiary, but may not share the information with the eligible parties. If you suspect you are an insurance beneficiary in someone’s policy, there are steps you can take to discover if you will receive a policy death benefit.
Life Insurance Beneficiary Rules
The policyholder is the only person who can change the beneficiary on a life insurance policy. States with community property require spousal approval if someone else is to be named beneficiary. A minor child can not receive death benefits directly. Usually, the funds will go into a trust to be managed by the designated guardian. If the life insurance beneficiary spouse or child is deceased, then there may be additional contingencies named. Remember that the policyholder may have made updates through the years, and though you believe you are a beneficiary, that status could have changed for various reasons. An example of changes could be if your sibling pre-deceased the policyholder, and contingencies are in place to share among grandchildren or other important people.
Claiming A Life Insurance Policy
The first step in claiming benefits will be to notify the insurance company. The insurance company has no way to know a policyholder is deceased, and the process will require a Death Certificate — usually available through the funeral mortuary. If you don’t have a copy of the life insurance policy or it is unclear what company may hold a policy, you will need to do some investigating. If there is not a policy copy in personal files, it is a good idea to check with the following:
- deceased person’s lawyer/ terms of the will
- home and auto insurer
- financial advisor
- search canceled checks for a company name
- previous employer benefits
If all else fails, you may need to wait until the annual billing statement shows up in the mail, or you may want to contact a Life Insurance Policy Locator Service to search for information.
At Independent Insurance Associates, we are here to help you with all of your insurance needs. Making the hard decisions about providing for your loved ones is not an easy process. We are happy to guide you through the rules and terminology for a comprehensive and equitable policy.
Feel free to contact us if you are ready to purchase a life insurance policy or you need to update your existing documents. Understanding the consequences of naming beneficiaries for your death benefits should be carefully considered. As hard as it can be to think about your loved ones having to carry on without you, making time to be sure everything is in writing will make it easier on everyone. Remember to keep your important documents in order so your beneficiaries won’t need this advice when it is time to settle your estate.