Though it seems like the government regulates just about everything these days, in one area there is a definite lack of regulation. Unclaimed property in the United States, of which unclaimed life insurance policies compose a large portion, is one problem that would benefit from government intervention.
Unfortunately, there is no federal, uniform resource people can access to determine whether they have unclaimed policy benefits awaiting them, and these benefits-which may total close to $1.3 billion nationwide-are used by insurance companies and states as long as they remain unclaimed.
The current system in place for unclaimed property, including life insurance policies, varies from insurance company to insurance company and state to state, but most use similar time periods and procedures for alerting the public about unclaimed property. Typically, states allow insurance companies two to seven years to contact policy beneficiaries before the unclaimed property is transferred to the states. While insurance companies hunt for beneficiaries, the unclaimed money sits in a general fund that can be used by the company until the beneficiary is found. If no beneficiary is found or comes forward, this money is transferred to states and is put in a similar general fund. States then publish annual lists of unclaimed property in newspapers and online to alert the public. After a number of years property that remains unclaimed becomes the property of the states.
New York is a good example of this reality. The state of New York has received over $400 million in unclaimed life insurance policies from insurance companies since 2000, and has paid out about $65 million to beneficiaries. The rest of the money sits unclaimed in a state fund. The state has a website for the public to use to search for funds, but the state indicates that $11 billion in different kinds of insurance policies remains unclaimed in the state.
Likewise, the state of Indiana holds over $361 million in unclaimed assets, with $85 million in unclaimed insurance polices. The state runs a website dedicated to unclaimed property through the Office of the Attorney General. The Office of the Attorney General also publishes a list of property owners or beneficiaries in newspapers around the state. If property remains unclaimed for 25 years, it becomes the property of Indiana.
If you or a loved believes you may be able to claim a life insurance policy currently held by the state of Indiana, search the online database or contact the Office of the Attorney General. It may be helpful to seek the advice of an experienced estate planning attorney to help you understand your role in the claims process.