KSL Investigates: How To Find A Missing Life Insurance Policy
BLANDING, Utah — Billions of dollars from misplaced or forgotten life insurance policies in the United States are waiting to be claimed by their rightful beneficiaries. Documents often get lost or overlooked when a loved one dies, or the agency has since gone out of business. But what if you’re the beneficiary of a life insurance policy you didn’t even know about?
In September 1955, Vernetta Sonderegger purchased a whole life insurance policy from a Salt Lake City-based agent of the National Public Service Insurance Company. Last October, she passed away at age 96.
“She was very vivacious, she loved to do everything,” said Sonderegger’s daughter, Relva Bowring. “She’d ride the motorcycles. Anything we were doing, she wanted to be there to be a part of it.”
Bowring had her mother’s insurance documents from 1955, but she couldn’t track down the insurer – National Public Service Insurance Company.
“So, I sent a letter in January to the company at the address that I had, and it came right back – there’s no such address,” said Bowring.
She searched the internet and found no trace, and a friend in the insurance industry didn’t have an answer for her.
“That didn’t go anywhere. We’ve just kind of hit a lot of dead ends and just kind of got discouraged,” said Bowring.
That’s the point when Bowring emailed the KSL Investigators to ask if there was any way we could help her find her mom’s missing policy.
Knowing the defunct agency had been headquartered in Seattle, we looked up the Washington state’s Insurance Department and found ownership had changed. It was now in the hands of the “American Gen Group” of Waco, Texas. An internet search of that returned American-Amicable Life Insurance.
We pointed Bowring to that agency. She called them and bingo – they had her mom’s policy.
“We just really didn’t know where to go with this,” said Bowring. “We were just kind of hitting dead ends everywhere.”
Tanji Northrup, deputy commissioner for the Utah Department of Insurance, said missing policies happen more often than one might think.
“It comes up very frequently, and we get several calls with people trying to find life insurance policies,” Northrup said.
Often times, beneficiaries don’t know the insurance company’s name, where the policy was written, or even the date that it was bought. Sometimes, they don’t even know they are a beneficiary.
Could you have a loved one who passed away with a life insurance policy that you didn’t know about? Tonight on @KSL5TV News at 6PM, I'll show you what happens to life insurance money when nobody claims it and the one thing experts say you should do when a family member dies. pic.twitter.com/Z5t7xBC9Zx
— Matt Gephardt KSL (@KslMatt) August 31, 2020
“A life insurance company could go out of business, or frequently, they’ll change their names. And so, there are various different routes that you can go through to try and find access to the information you’re looking for,” Northrup explained.
Even when an insurance company shuts down entirely without its assets being taken over by another company, payouts still exist.
“The state does have the life and health guarantee association, and so, if there is an active policy, they may have benefits available to them through the guarantee association,” she said.
Northrup also said if you can’t find a policy, start your search by contacting the insurance department of the state where it was issued.
Another tool is the Life Insurance Policy Locator Service, operated by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
“All states have been participating,” said Northrup. “They gather basic information about the policy owner, and then they send that information out to insurers. And then insurers will respond and say, ‘You know, we have that policy.’”
In many cases, the insurance company itself will let you know if you are a beneficiary. Many agencies regularly check the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File for deceased policyholders.
“They look to identify if it includes any of their insured and if it does, the insurance company is required to contact the beneficiary listed on the policy,” said Northrup.
When an insurer can’t find beneficiaries, it will send the money to a state’s unclaimed property division. So, you could go to a state’s unclaimed property website, or the website for the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, to do a search by name.
Northrup said if you’ve got life insurance, it’s very important to let your loved ones know and where they can find documents so they don’t become a beneficiary of an unclaimed life insurance policy.