How to find old life insurance policies (and other unclaimed property)

The case: A woman called us last year, trying to track down a life insurance policy that her grandmother had bought in 1971. The policy had been sold by one company to another.

"Makes me wonder how many policies go unclaimed," she said.
A lot. According to the New York Times, hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

So how do you track down a relative's old policy?

Gather as much information as possible: name, insurer and any relevant documents. Try to find the policy itself, which will have a number on it. Make sure you have a copy of the death certificate.

Tip: If you can't find the company, try going through the person's financial records, looking for payments made to an insurer. Also, look through old mail -- the company may have sent periodic statements or billing reminders. If you know which company they had their auto= or homeowners coverage with, consider contacting that company. People often use the same insurer for life insurance.

Then, make sure the company still exists, or if it merged with another company. If you live in Washington state, we can help with this, for free. Call us at 1-800-562-6900. If you live in another state, call your state's insurance regulator for help.

If you can't find any information, even the name of the company, you may want to pay a search company to run your relative's name against insurance industry databases or to contact a large number of insurers directly. Examples include companies like MIB Solutions or The Lost Life Insurance Finder Expert. (Note: mentioning a company or product on this blog ≠ endorsement.)

Other places to check:

If the policy goes unclaimed for a long time, insurers are supposed to turn the money over to state unclaimed property funds. Run your relative's name through these free, state-run online search sites. There are companies that will offer to do this for you, but you can easily and quickly run the checks online yourself. Here's Washington state's official unclaimed property site. And here's a list of similar official unclaimed property websites in other states.

Tip: Online companies can also search for unclaimed property for you, but with a little time at your computer and the sites listed above, you can do the same thing, for free, yourself.

As for that life insurance case, we helped the woman figure out the current company holding the policy and file a claim.

"This is incredible," she wrote. "We can't thank you enough."
Bonus round: Here are our tips if you're buying life insurance or an annuity.

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