UPDATED: Jul 24, 2011

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Written By: Laura BerryReviewed By: Daniel WalkerUPDATED: Jul 24, 2011Fact Checked

If one of your family members has died and you do not know much about the person’s financial affairs and provisions for the estate, you are not alone. A surprising number of people, including spouses, do not discuss what will happen when they die, possibly because the topic is painful or embarrassing for them. Unfortunately, this leads to a great deal of confusion and stress at a time when family members are grieving and not as capable of handling these things. Besides funeral expenses, family members may be faced with final medical bills and other drains on their resources, and may not be aware that there is money set aside to pay for these things, and to benefit them financially. It is always best to make a sound financial plan and a will, and discuss the contents with all the interested parties, so that no one is surprised by the outcome.

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However, you may already be facing a situation in which a parent, spouse, or other loved one has passed away, and you have no idea if the person had any form of life insurance or other provisions for paying debts and funding an estate. If this is the case, there are several avenues you can pursue to discover this information, although the process may be time-consuming and costly.

Look through Personal Effects

First, look through the deceased person’s personal papers. Often, people keep a box or file of important documents in a desk or closet, and in this location you may find policies you did not know were in existence. If you do, contact the insurance company for information about how to claim the death benefits. Even if the policy has lapsed, there may still be a cash value from previous payments which were made.

Check Safety Deposit Boxes

If the person’s residence does not turn up any information, check to see if the deceased had a safety deposit box at his or her bank. You cannot legally walk in and look inside a safety deposit box, but the executor of the estate can be granted that power. It is never a good idea to leave your will or life insurance policies in a safety deposit box for that very reason; it makes it difficult for your survivors to access the information. However, many people do just this. If you already know who the executor of the estate is, talk to him or her about inventorying the contents of the safety deposit box. If there is no executor, you may have to petition the probate court to be named executor before you can inventory the safety deposit box.

Do an Online Search

There are websites which also allow you to search, for a fee, for any extant insurance policies which have not been claimed. One website, policylocator.com, charges a $75 fee to look through the last 14 years of policy applications for the name of the deceased. While this is a rather high fee, it is usually well worth it if you discover an insurance policy. At that point, you can find the name of the company and contact them directly. If you are listed as a beneficiary, the company will work with you to apply for the death benefits.

Obtain Legal Assistance

If the policy was taken out more than 14 years ago, or is not listed in the database, the next step is to contact any lawyers, financial advisors, or accountants who worked with the deceased. People who do not have close family often entrust their important financial documents to one of these people. It may take some research, but you may discover that one of these professionals is holding an insurance policy in the name of the deceased.

Anaylze Bank Statements

If you are the spouse of the deceased, or the executor of the will, you can also examine bank records for payments to insurance companies. Any companies listed which have received a check are good leads for possible policies.

Of course, the easiest way to spare your beneficiaries all this work is to make a will and list the various assets you possess. If everyone knows there is a will, and an executor is named, he or she will likely be aware of all policies held by the deceased. While you do not want to pass life insurance proceeds through your will, which makes them subject to inheritance taxes, it is a good idea to keep a list of all policies, the account numbers associated with each, and the face value, as well as the beneficiaries of each policy. Taking the time to collect this information and store it with your will can save your loved ones hours of hard work and grief in trying to sort out your affairs.

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A former insurance producer, Laura understands that education is key when it comes to buying insurance. She has happily dedicated many hours to helping her clients understand how the insurance marketplace works so they can find the best car, home, and life insurance products for their needs.

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Written by Laura Berry
Former Insurance Agent Laura Berry

Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years. He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance, including home, auto, umbrella, and dwelling fire insurance. He’s also been featured on sites like Reviews.com.

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Car Insurance Agent Daniel Walker