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How to file a life insurance claim

Most claims are paid out within 30 to 60 days, and the process starts with notifying the insurer.

If you’re a life insurance beneficiary, you’ll need to file a claim upon the policyholder’s death to get the payout. The insurer has no responsibility to alert you, but the claims process is pretty simple. To speed it up and make sure you get your benefit sooner, find out how to file a life insurance claim — and start collecting any supporting documents.

How to file a life insurance claim

Claiming the life insurance payout is straightforward. Follow these steps to make your claim:

  1. Get a certified copy of the death certificate. The funeral director will usually have this and can make you a copy. You can also find it by contacting your state or local health department, or by hiring a third-party service to request it on your behalf.
  2. Gather any other supporting documents. This may include a coroner’s report or police report.
  3. Request and fill out claim forms. Once you have the documents you need, contact the insurer to ask for a claims form. Some insurers allow you to complete it online, while others require you to mail it in. Each beneficiary claiming a part of the benefit needs to complete and sign one of these forms.
  4. Submit the claims form and documents. Send the death certificate, proof of your identity and the claim forms to the insurance company.
  5. Wait for claim approval. The insurer will review your case, and either approve or deny your claim, or request more information.

How long does it take for life insurance claims to pay out?

Generally, insurers have 30 to 60 days to review a claim and pay it. Some states have laws in place to regulate this, and insurance companies can even face the threat of accumulating interest if they take too long. It could take longer if your life insurer has to investigate the claim, such as if fraud is inspected.

You may receive a lump sum all at once, but it depends on which payout method the policyholder chose. Sometimes, the benefit will come in installments or annuities, which will be paid out over the beneficiary’s lifetime. However, there are some payout tax implications for choosing either option.

Is there a time limit on making a life insurance claim?

Unlike other types of insurance, there’s no time limit for making a life insurance claim. Some people might not find out they were the beneficiary of a policy until years later, and the claim won’t be denied as long as the policy was paid up at the time of death. You can put in your claim as soon as you have the death certificate.

Could my life insurance claim be rejected?

Yes — though it’s rare. The insurer might deny the claim in these situations:

  • Type of death wasn’t covered in the policy. Some types of death — such as suicide or death during an illegal activity — may not be covered. But this depends on the details of the specific policy. Death by homicide may not cause a denial, but it could delay the payout of the claim.
  • Death happened within the contestability period. Most policies have a contestability period that remains in place for two years after the plan has been purchased. If the policyholder dies before then, the insurance company can launch an investigation and even deny the claim, even if no fraud is found.
  • Dishonesty during the application process. If fraud is discovered after the policyholder’s death — for instance, if the person lied about smoking on the application but died of smoking-related reasons — then the insurance agency can deny the claim.
  • Policyholder failed to make monthly payments. A policy must be active for a beneficiary to receive the benefit. So if the policyholder had lapsed payments, it could have been terminated.

Can I contest a denied life insurance claim?

Yes. To contest a denial, contact the life insurance agency. It’s required to base its decision on solid evidence, so to dispute the claim you’ll need to prove it wrong. If the claim is still denied after your efforts, you can take legal action against the insurer.

How to make sure your life insurance claim isn’t rejected

Policyholders should consider these four ways to better the chances of a benefit being paid:

  1. Don’t lie or leave out information on your application. You may attempt to leave out facts like a smoking habit or dangerous hobby in order to get cheaper rates — but if you die and the company uncovers that you left out information, your loved ones may never receive the death benefit.
  2. Clarify you understand all questions. Sometimes missing information is an honest mistake, or misunderstanding. You’ll want to be sure you know exactly what you’re being asked before providing an answer.
  3. Take your time. Life insurance applications can be long and complicated. Don’t rush through medical questions, read them carefully and provide answers to the best of your ability.
  4. Double-check your application. Before you sign your application and submit it for review, look over your answers again to ensure nothing was missed.

How do I know if I’m a life insurance beneficiary?

The easiest way to determine whether you’re a beneficiary is to ask the policyholder while they are still living.

But according to a report from USA Today, there are billions of dollars of life insurance benefits that have never been paid. If the suspected policyholder has died, these steps can help you determine if one of those payouts might be yours. You’ll need the full legal name of the deceased on hand, as well as their Social Security number and address.

  • Look for the paperwork. If you’re managing the estate of a loved one, looking through personal files for old insurance statements can be a simple way of finding the policy and inquiring about your status as a beneficiary.
  • Search online. Check a life insurance databases to help you search for unclaimed benefits. The NAIC offers a life insurance policy locator that can put out a call to all insurers about a possible policy. The Medical Information Bureau is another database that tracks insurance applications, though there’s a $75 fee to run the search.
  • Ask the state. Each state has a collection of unclaimed funds and property. Search for unclaimed property by going to unclaimed.org, choosing your state and clicking search unclaimed property.
  • Find a connection. If the deceased had an estate planner or accountant, they could have knowledge of any life insurance policies. A former employer may also have information if the life insurance was purchased through the policyholder’s workplace.

What’s the difference between a primary and secondary beneficiary?

The primary beneficiary is the first person chosen to receive the benefit payout. If the primary beneficiary can’t or won’t accept the payout, it goes to the secondary — or contingent — beneficiary.

Bottom line

While filing a life insurance claim can understandably feel like a weight on your shoulders, the process is well-regulated and shouldn’t be overly complicated. Talking to the company that issued the policy is the best way to get started.

You can also use our guide to life insurance to learn more about how it works and how to get the best policy to protect your family.

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