How to make a life insurance claim

Although there is usually no limit on filing a life insurance claim, it’s best to file a claim as soon as possible. 

1. Find out the insurance company and policy number. If you don’t have the policy number and only have the insurance company name, have the deceased person’s name, social security number and other identifying information ready when you call. This will help the insurance company find the policy.

If you have no idea what the insurance company is and only know there is a policy somewhere, or even if you aren’t sure but want to find out if they had life insurance, try looking through the deceased’s records. A clue might be canceled checks or automatic withdrawals made out to an insurance company. 

2. Get certified copies of the death certificate. You can request this from the funeral home. You can also go to the city clerk’s office for copies.

3. Call the claims number on the policy. It’s usually listed on the first few pages of the policy pages. You can also locate the claims number on the company website. The claims representative will need the decedent’s name, date of death, cause of death and your name and info. The claims department will send you a claims form to sign and send back.

4. Decide how you want to be paid. The insurance company will ask if you want a lump sum or installments. You can receive a check for the full amount, set up an annuity or ask about other options.

What do you need to claim life insurance?

“To submit a claim under a life insurance policy or annuity contract, the following must be submitted to the insurer home office,” says W.A. “Skip” Eggleston of Heyward Group, LLC, an insurance agency in Ohio:

  1. A life insurance claimant’s statement
  2. A certified copy of the insured's death certificate
  3. A notarized signature on the claim form or a clear copy of your driver's license or state-issued identification for signature certification
  4. The original insurance policy or annuity contract, if available.

“You will also be asked to provide the insured's full name and state of residence, date of birth, date of death, policy issue date, and other details.  This will also be necessary if the claimant does not have a policy number.”

The funeral home that handled the services for the insured should be able to provide copies of the death certificate. Ask for certified copies.

What if you don’t have the policy number? “The policy number is not usually something that will slow down or even stop a claim,” Eggleston says. “If you have other identifying information about the policyholder the insurance company can find and then verify any policy information.” 

A copy of the obituary is a good thing to provide in addition to the official documents.

How long does it take for a life insurance claim to be paid?

“The time period can vary,” Eggleston says. “However, once all required documents are received, many life insurance companies will overnight the check to the claimant.” In some cases, it may take longer–  weeks or even a couple of months, if there is missing paperwork or a question about the claim. Generally, however, insurance companies are required to pay out as quickly as possible.

If you are the beneficiary of a life insurance policy and you live out of the country, the insurance company may require some additional paperwork.

If there is any question as to the cause of death or possible fraud, that can delay the payout process.

There are a few other instances that may delay a payout, for example, if the beneficiary is a minor or if the beneficiary named on the policy is deceased and was never changed. This can cause life insurance proceeds to go through probate. 

Can a life insurance claim be denied?

There are a few reasons why a life insurance claim might be denied by the insurance company. 

One reason a claim might be denied is that the insured lied on their application. There are medical and lifestyle questions on the application. If the insured lied and said they don’t have cancer or aren’t a smoker, but the cause of death is related to those things, your claim could be denied. 

Another reason a claim might be denied is if the insured didn’t keep up with the payments. Policies lapse after a certain period of non-payment. While some policies build up a cash value that can sustain the premium payments for a while, not all do. You or a family member might come across an old policy when a loved one dies only to find out they didn’t keep up with paying the premiums.

A third reason a life insurance claim might be denied is that the cause of death is excluded by the policy. Many life insurance policies do not pay out if the cause of death is related to committing a crime, for example. 

Another exclusion might be a high-risk activity such as skydiving. This goes back to the medical and lifestyle questions on the application. If you die skydiving but answered “no” that you do not have a hobby like skydiving or mountain climbing on your application, the claim could be denied.

These reasons are usually out of the beneficiary’s control, but it isn’t very common. Eggleston has not had any experience with that happening at his agency, fortunately.

Losing a loved one is difficult, but knowing how to put in a life insurance claim makes at least one thing easier at the time. Once you gather the right documents, the claims process should go smoothly.