2 BIG lessons behind Billions in Unpaid Death Benefits

Unpaid Death Benefits from Life Insurance policies are still very much in the news in the US & that’s not likely to change for a while given that investigations & law suits are still ongoing. All in all, it’s a Sad & Ugly story that includes the use, abuse & non use of the “Death Master File” & Unknown Billions of Dollars in Unpaid Death Benefits. It’s also a reminder & a confirmation of the need to safeguard life insurance policies and share the details with loved ones. 

Unpaid Death Benefits from a Life Insurance Policy

Unpaid Death Benefits

Unclaimed death benefits refers to a life policy where death benefits under that policy have not yet been paid to a beneficiary by the Insurer. In the US, where Unclaimed Property Legislation has existed for some 50+ years, Individual States have become quite ‘proactive‘ or ‘aggressive‘ with Insurers in recent years.  The use of the term Proactive versus Aggressive depends upon whether you are a State or an Insurer & it all more/less relates to the use, abuse or non-use of the US Social Security Administration’ s Death Master File

That’s the file that most State Governments expected Insurers to use to identify deceased life policy owners in a timely manner. However, too many delayed or non payments to designated beneficiaries were suspected to exist and so, a multitude of reviews have taken place over the past 2 years by both State Attorney Generals & State Insurance departments to see whether, and to what extent, insurers had failed to fulfill their beneficiary payment responsibilities. Examinations, Public inquiries, subpoenas, lawsuits and Audits have been BIG news  across the US given the Billions that have been estimated to be outstanding.

A number of States have proudly announced settlement agreements reached with various insurers. Multi State settlements often totaling in the millions are becoming the norm. No wrong doing has actually been admitted to by the Insurers; they have only indicated that the settlements have more to do with moving “things forward”

New York/New York

While actual Go Forward Guidance in the form of changes, new laws and regulations have been slow to materialize, in  December 2012, New York enacted a law requiring insurers to make regular searches of records to identify when a policyholder died and to locate beneficiaries so that life insurance proceeds can be paid.  

And, in July last year,  New York announced that its investigations, which started in July 2011, had resulted in more than $1.1 Billion in unclaimed life insurance benefits being recovered. It was determined that Insurance companies were not using the Death Master file as provided, to search  for life policies that needed to be paid out BUT most insurers were using it to determine when to stop making annuity payments. That’s troubling to say the least.

As a result of New York’s findings, it’s estimated that 100,000 individuals or families across the US including 25,000 from New York received policy benefits. The oldest claim dated back to 1960. Many of those recipients were completely unaware that there was a life insurance policy in place. That made for some emotional press conferences.

In all, $1.15 Billion in recoveries had been made to last July and $339 Million of that was turned over to beneficiaries. The difference will reside with New York State but listed on the States Unclaimed Property website for heirs to find.

It’s unfortunate that the delay in developing uniform guidelines and in providing  better guidance continues to create uncertainty for insurers & delay death benefit payouts further.

Estimates of how much money unclaimed benefits may actually represent across the US vary widely from a few Billion $ to Multiple billion $. No one can yet claim to have an actual number yet outside of describing it as BIG

This may all sound very confusing to those unfamiliar with the Unclaimed Property legislation that exists in many countries like the US (but not Canada outside of Alberta and Quebec) . Many may wonder why each State is being so very proactive.? The answer is that these investigations, audits and new guidelines have major financial implications not just for grateful beneficiaries but also to the individual states as well. That’s due to the fact that in the case of any of those unclaimed death benefits where the beneficiaries may be unable to be located or found; those death benefits will remain with the State & not the Insurer.

New developments are certain to occur shortly, but the real lesson in this story is not about the Greed which would seem to be at play here, but the vital importance of

1) Carefully Safeguarding the details of Life Insurance Policies for the benefit of those you gave consideration to in the first place by making them a beneficiary and

2) Advising those beneficiaries or those close to you about those Life Insurance policies and where the details can be found.

The best person to safeguard your legacy is You.  

LegacyTracker can help. We’ve included a safe & accessible location inside LegacyTracker to  secure your life insurance details. You can also can attach the policy alongside that information.