A Beneficiary’s Guide to Filing a Life Insurance Claim

A life insurance policy can be a thoughtful way to provide for loved ones after you die. But what happens if you are the beneficiary of someone’s life insurance policy?

Losing someone close to you is a difficult situation. Fortunately, however, filing a claim is usually straightforward. Here is what you should do if you want to receive the benefits from a policy.

Determine if You’re the Beneficiary

Hopefully, you know where a copy of the policy is located. The life insurance company might alert you, but if not, there are several ways to find a copy of the policy if it is not readily available:

•    If you have access to login information, check the insurance company’s claims portal.

•    Look for a PDF that may have been downloaded onto a hard drive.

•    Call life insurance companies that do business in your state, particularly if the policyholder had any other type of policy with that company.

•    Ask the benefits administrator of the policy holder’s employer if they offer a group life insurance policy.

•    Look for premium payment stubs.

•    Contact your state’s insurance department as well as its unclaimed property office. This usually can be accessed online.

•    In rare cases, the insurance company may have gone out of business since the insured person purchased the policy or the company may have changed its name or merged with another company. In these situations, you’ll have to do some research.

Once you have a copy of the policy, determine whether you’re a primary beneficiary or a secondary beneficiary. If there is more than one primary beneficiary, you will have to split the death benefit. If you or someone else is named a secondary beneficiary, then no benefits will be paid unless all the primary beneficiaries are dead or refused to receive the benefit. If the primary beneficiary can’t or won’t accept the life insurance proceeds, the contingent beneficiary must file a claim with the life insurance company.

Four Easy Steps

Once you have a copy of the policy and can prove you are the beneficiary, there are four steps to making a claim:

•    1st step: Call the policyholder’s insurance agent to notify them of the death of the policy holder. The agent will be able to help you fill out the necessary forms.

•    2nd step: Get several certified copies of the death certificate from the funeral director.

•    3rd step: Submit the death certificate to the life insurance company so the claim process can begin.

•    4th step: Choose a payment method. Select how you want the life policy paid out. The most common choices are:

•    Lump-sum payout – the entire payout in one amount.

•    Specific income provision – a scheduled payout over time of a determined amount.

•    Life income option – a monthly payout based on the death benefit and your life expectancy.

•    Life income with a specified period – a payout of a specific amount for a guaranteed period of time.

•    Joint and last survivor income – a fixed amount each month until you die. There is also an option where you can give a portion to a third-party.

•    Interest income option – The company holds the proceeds and pays you interest.

Denied Claims

Life insurance can be denied for one of two reasons:

•    If the policyholder gave false information, such as saying they didn’t smoke during the underwriting phase and then they died of lung cancer within two years of starting the life insurance policy.

•    If the policyholder took their life within the first two years of the life insurance policy. As the beneficiary, you will not receive a payout, but you will get a return of the premiums paid.


As always, talk to your insurance agent for assistance when filing a claim.