Life insurance is often purchased to protect against loss of income, but policyholders commonly fail to inform the beneficiary(s) of the policy’s existence. You may be a beneficiary and not even know it. As a result, there are many unclaimed life insurance policy death benefits because of long dormancy periods or lack of awareness. The responsibility to claim benefits lies with the survivors. Almost 30% of all life insurance benefits in excess of $500,000,000 per year go unpaid or unclaimed upon the death of the policyholder.
Futhermore, if you are a deceased person’s spouse, child, grandchild, great-grandchild, (whether natural or legally adopted), parent, brother or sister, niece or nephew of whatever degree, grandparent, or descendant of a mutual grandparent of the deceased person, you may be considered a heir under state law, and you may be entitled to a portion or all of the death benefits.
When a beneficiary or heir fails to claim the death benefits for one to five years depending on the state, the money is transferred to the state where the insurance policy was purchased under the escheat laws.
Another source of unclaimed money or assets with life insurance companies has been the recent demutualization of some of the largest insurance companies. Demutualization refers to a reorganization in which a mutual insurance company becomes a stock company. This is accomplished through the payment of stock or cash to the policyholders upon the discontinuation of the mutual company. This reorganization has no impact on the actual life insurance policy.
After demutualization, shareholders of the new company entitles them to vote at shareholder meetings and to dividends declared on their shares. The new shares are listed on a major stock exchange. This provides for the potential to raise capital by having new investors buy the stock while providing a market for the policyholders to sell their shares.
The amount due each policyholder is based on a number of factors, including length of time the policy has been in force, face value of their policy, and total premiums paid. For many policyholders, this windfall arising from demutualization can be substantial, and the financial benefits continue after the company demutualizes.
Between 1985 and 2004, more than 20 major insurance companies went through demutualization. Unfortunately, millions of policyholders’ current addresses were not known by these major insurance companies and the policyholders were not informed that they now owned stock in a new company in addition to their actual life insurance policy.
If you or a deceased relative had a life insurance policy with any of these companies, you may be entitled to either stock and cash dividends as well as the proceeds of the policy itself. If the policyholder cannot be found, the demutualization proceeds are turned over to a State agency after the statutory period which varies from state to state (but normally when a one to five year period) has passed. There is no time limit by which these proceeds can be recovered. However, it is possible that stock will be liquidated upon receipt to the state agency. The proceeds from the sale of the stock will be credited to an account in the owners name until such time the owner, beneficiaries, or heirs submit a valid claim.