I am a Life Insurance Beneficiary 

I am a Life Insurance Beneficiary

A life insurance beneficiary is a person or organization designated to receive the death benefit when the policy holder dies. A beneficiary can be a family member, a friend, an organization, a business partner, a spouse or a legal entity. While most states allow the policy holder to choose a beneficiary, some states have regulations stipulating who can and cannot be a beneficiary. Multiple people and entities can be named as beneficiaries, all of whom will receive a portion of the death benefit when the policy holder dies.

Beneficiary Types

There are two kinds of beneficiaries: primary and contingent. A primary beneficiary is the original person(s) or organization(s) who was designated the death benefit. In many instances, the primary beneficiary will be the spouse. If a primary beneficiary was not chosen, the insurance company will pay the benefit out to the estate. This process often prevents the disbursement of the money by wrapping it up in red tape.

A contingent, or secondary, beneficiary will receive the death benefit if the primary beneficiary dies or goes out of business before the policy holder dies. Although you may be listed in the insurance policy as a contingent beneficiary, you will not receive a portion of the death benefit if any of the primary beneficiaries are still living.

Spouses and Children

If you are the spouse, you are the most likely option for a beneficiary. A term life insurance policy provides a buffer for the family in the event that the policyholder passes. By leaving money behind for you, your spouse helps make sure that you will not need to struggle to pay the bills or funeral costs. In some states, it is illegal to name another person as a beneficiary if the policy was instituted after you and your spouse were married without your express consent.

If you are a minor child of the deceased, it can be extremely difficult to obtain the death benefit without going through miles of bureaucratic red tape. If you are under the age of majority, the death benefit will go into a trust under the control of a guardian appointed by the court. The guardian will maintain the trust until you come of age. If the policy holder designated a guardian before his or her passing, you will be able to have access to the money sooner rather than later.

Obtaining the Death Benefit

If you are the beneficiary of a life insurance policy and need to claim the death benefit, there are several steps you need to take. The loss of a loved one is always painful, but the ability to pay for the funeral and take care of those left behind can help ease the burden.

The insurance policy holder should let you know if you are a beneficiary as soon as is reasonable. It is not uncommon for a policy holder to die and their beneficiaries be completely unaware that they can receive the death benefit.

In most cases, the insurance company will track the beneficiary of a life insurance policy down to give you the death benefit. Be sure to keep your address and phone number up-to-date with the policy holder to allow the insurance company to contact you should the need arise.

A life insurance benefit can only be paid if you file a claim with the insurance carrier. However, if you are unaware that you are a beneficiary, it could be some time before the insurance company locates you.

The first step toward obtaining your benefits is to locate the death certificate. This proves that the insured has died. You can obtain a death certificate from the local government in the county where the policy holder dies or from the mortuary that handled the funeral. The death certificate contains information such as the date and cause of death.

Locating the Policy

In order to obtain your benefits, you will need to locate a copy of the policy. You can do one of several things to obtain this document:

  • Locate a physical copy
  • Locate an electronic copy
  • Submit a claim through the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' website
  • Contact the state Department of Insurance
  • Locate secondary documents

The easiest way to claim a death benefit is to locate the physical copy of the policy. The policy will contain all the pertinent information such the name of the policy holder, the policy number, a description of the policy, the terms and date of issue, the amount of coverage and any riders or additional information. If you do know the name of the insurance company, contact them directly and provide with the details of the death certificate.

Another way to obtain the death benefit is to locate an electronic copy on a computer, a phone or in a cloud storage device. If you are unable to gain access to the computer, you may be able to retrieve it from the server by presenting the company with a court order stating that the account holder is dead.

If you cannot obtain a copy of the policy or are unsure of which insurance carrier the deceased was using, you can submit a claim through the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' Life Insurance Policy Locator Service using the death certificate. The NAIC will track down the insurance carrier of the deceased, who will then contact you directly.

There is a Department of Insurance located in every state. Visit their website to see if you can plug in the policy holder's information to search for the policy. You can call the department directly to speak to a person.

Look for secondary documents if you are unsure of the name of the insurance carrier. You can check bank statements to determine when premiums were withdrawn and by whom. Be sure to check all 12 statements to cover for an annual premium. You could also use tax returns if the deceased had a policy with a cash-value component. The tax returns would let you see any dividends paid out by the insurance company. You may need a court order to gain access to these sensitive documents.

If the deceased held a group life insurance policy as part of the benefits package offered by an employer, you will need to contact the benefits administrator of the company directly. Keep in mind that a group life insurance policy is only valid as long as the policy holder remains with that employer. The policy will not follow the insured to another job. If the deceased was part of a union that provided group life insurance to its members, you will need to contact the union representative of the deceased to gain access to the policy.


As with any legal matter, be sure to consult a licensed lawyer to help you navigate the in-and-outs of the law. If you are looking to establish a life insurance policy with a carrier, consider using a referral service such as Term Life Insurance USA. We use data modeling and predictive analytics to help to help you locate the right agent for your needs.

Disclaimer: TermLifeInsuranceUSA.com is not a licensed insurance agency or broker. The content of this website is for informational and comparative purposes only and is not intended to take the place of professional advice from a licensed insurance agent. TermLifeInsuranceUSA.com recommends that all consumers consult with a licensed insurance agent before purchasing any insurance policy.

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