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What happens to a life insurance policy when someone dies?

Unclaimed life insurance policies are not uncommon, but there are several ways to find out if your loved one had life cover enabling you to make a claim, even if it’s years later.

GoCompare author
Updated 30 November 2021  | 3 mins read

What is an unclaimed life insurance policy?

An unclaimed life insurance policy is one that hasn’t been claimed by the person or people named as the beneficiary to receive the insurance payout.

When a policyholder dies within the term of the policy, the beneficiaries should make a claim to the insurer to receive the agreed tax-free lump sum of money.

However, sometimes policies can go unclaimed and this can be for a number of reasons.

For example, the policyholder might forget they have life insurance or not tell loved ones they’ve taken it out. Equally, it may go unclaimed because the beneficiaries die before the policy holder.

In fact, GoCompare has estimated that £230.2 billion worth of life insurance benefits are at risk of going unclaimed in the UK because the policy holder hasn’t arranged a way for their beneficiaries to make a claim. [1] 

Key points

  • An estimated £230.2 billion could be left in forgotten and unclaimed life protection policies in the UK
  • To find out if your loved one had life insurance there are several things you can do
  • When you take out cover, tell your family and any beneficiaries named on your policy
  • There’s no timeframe for claiming on a life insurance policy, so valid claims can be made many years after the person has died
  • Leave policy documents and other important information somewhere they can be found when you’re no longer around

How do you know if someone had a life insurance policy?

If you’ve been named as a beneficiary, the policyholder will usually let you know.

If your loved one took out life cover but didn’t name any beneficiaries, the payout would be added to the money and possessions they left behind, known as their estate.

When a person dies, the executor of the will typically take responsibility for gathering all the paperwork, including bank statements, to check for any life insurance policies and gather information on the value of the person’s estate.

If there’s no will, the administrator of the estate will take on this role, but family members and beneficiaries can also investigate whether any life insurance exists.

How do you make a claim on life insurance?

To begin with, you’ll need to know the life insurance provider of the policy and find out what their claims process is.

To make a claim, most insurance companies will ask for:

  • The name of the policyholder
  • The cause of death shown on their death certificate
  • The life insurance policy number
  • Your name and details and your relationship to the deceased

Even if you don’t have the policy number, the insurance provider should still be able to help. From the details you provide, they’ll be able to tell if the policy, and your claim, is valid.

Anyone can start the claims process but only the beneficiaries will receive the payout, or the money may be sent to the executor of the will. If it’s going to someone under the age of 18 it might be paid into a trust.

Why should you check for unclaimed life insurance policies?

When someone you love dies, there might not be any obvious evidence they had a life insurance policy.

And life insurance companies don’t typically contact the beneficiaries to let them know (although some do search the death register to identify any policyholders who’ve passed away and notify beneficiaries).

Instead, the responsibility for claiming life insurance, and letting the insurer know the policyholder has died, usually lies with the executor of the will or close family members.

There’s no timescale for claiming on life insurance policies, so it’s worth you doing some investigative work to find out if any policies exist and if a payout is due.

How to locate unclaimed life insurance policies

If you want to find out if your loved one had life insurance, there are a few cost-free options you can try:

  • Check old bank statements to see if they show any insurance premiums and contact anyone who dealt with legal and accounting matters for your loved one
  • Get in touch with previous employers to find out if your family member had any life protection or if there are any death in service benefits that can be claimed
  • Check if the person who died was a member of a trade union - if it was involved with the policy in any way, the union can help you to trace it
  • If you have a grant of probate, you can contact various insurers to see if they’ve got a policy for the person in question - a good starting point for a list of insurers is the ABI
  • Speak to friends and close contacts of your loved one, as they may have discussed their financial arrangements with them

If the free methods don’t provide much success, for £25 you can search the Unclaimed Assets Register(UAR) to help discover any unclaimed policies in your loved one’s name.

What to do if the insurance company changes

For policies taken out a while ago, the provider may have changed name, closed, or merged with an insurer which can make them harder to track down.

If this has happened, you can check the details you have with the Policy Detective website which can help connect you with the current administrator of the policy.

For insurance firms that have failed or closed, you can check with the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) to see where the policy may have been moved to.

What happens to unclaimed life insurance money?

When it’s unclaimed, the policy will stay with the provider for some time, as there’s no timeframe for a life insurance claim.

If the insurer is informed the policyholder has died, which is sometimes done by a bank or building society, they’ll usually keep the policy for around two years.

After this, if the policy is unclaimed it’s passed on to the UAR.

With the UAR, you can search for unclaimed life cover policies and other lost financial assets, but whole of life policies won’t be added to the register until the policyholder’s 100th birthday.

If a policy goes unclaimed after 15 years of being on the UAR it becomes part of the government’s dormant assets and the money will go to charity. But you can still make a valid claim and receive a payout after this time.

If you have life insurance - tell them

Richard Jones at GoCompare life insurance said, “To ensure that loved ones can claim, it’s important that policyholders tell family members about their insurance. By having these difficult conversations, they can rest assured that their relatives are aware of and able to access these important documents when the time comes.”.

To help make sure your loved ones receive the financial protection you intended for them when you’re no longer around, leave policy documents and other important information somewhere they can be found.

[1] The estimated number of UK residents that have bought or thought about buying life insurance (19.5 million) is Canada Life data, published by the Financial Times Advisor. The average payout of protection insurance (£79,304) was sourced from ABI.