Collecting Life Insurance Proceeds
If you’re looking to collect life insurance proceeds as the policy’s beneficiary, the process is fairly simple. However, during the emotional period immediately following a loved one’s death, it can feel as if your entire world is falling apart, so it’s helpful to understand exactly what steps you need to take to access the insurance funds as quickly and easily as possible.
With this in mind, we’ve outlined the typical procedure for claiming and collecting life insurance proceeds, along with discussing how beneficiaries can deal with common hiccups in the process. However, because all life insurance policies are different and some involve more complexities than others, consult with us, your Personal Family Lawyer® if you need any support or guidance.
Filing A Claim
Death benefits are not automatically paid out from a life insurance policy. In order to collect the proceeds, you must first file a claim with the life insurance company. But before you start the claims process, you must first identify the beneficiary of the policy: are you the beneficiary, or is the policy set up to be paid to a trust?
We often recommend that life insurance proceeds be paid to a trust, not outright to a beneficiary. This way, the life insurance proceeds are protected from lawsuits, creditors, and even a divorce that a beneficiary may be involved with at the time they collect the funds.
In any case, you (or the trustee) will notify the insurance company of the policyholder’s death, either by contacting a local agent or by following the instructions on the insurance company’s website. If the policy was provided through an employer, you may need to contact the insured’s workplace first, so they can put you in touch with the appropriate insurance representative.
Many insurance companies allow you to report the death over the phone or by sending in a simple form and do not require the actual death certificate at this stage. Depending on the cause of death, it can sometimes take weeks for the death certificate to be available, so this simplified reporting option can dramatically speed up the process.
From there, the insurance company typically sends the beneficiary more detailed forms to fill out, along with further instructions about how to proceed. Some of the information you’re likely to be asked to provide during the claims process include the insured’s date of birth, date and place of death, their Social Security number, marital status, address, as well as other personal data.
If more than one adult beneficiary was named, each person should provide his or her own signed and notarized claim form. If any of the primary beneficiaries died before the policyholder, an alternate/contingent beneficiary can claim the proceeds. In that case, however, he or she will need to send in the death certificates of both the policyholder and the primary beneficiary.
Although policyholders are free to name anyone as a beneficiary, when minor children are named, it creates serious complications, since insurance companies will not allow a minor to receive life insurance benefits directly until they reach the age of majority.
If a minor child is named as a beneficiary, you would need to go to hire a probate lawyer and go to court to be named as the child’s legal guardian in order to manage the funds until the child comes of age—and this is the case even if you’re the child’s natural parent. This is because unless you are specifically named as the guardian of the minor’s estate, you are not automatically considered the guardian of the child’s financial assets, even as their parent.
This is why you should never name a minor child as a life insurance beneficiary, even as a backup to the primary beneficiary. Rather than naming a minor as the beneficiary, it’s often better to set up a trust to receive the proceeds. In that case, the proceeds are paid into the trust, and whomever is named as trustee will collect the insurance proceeds and manage the funds for the child’s benefit until he or she comes of age.
Moreover, within the terms of the trust, you can also spell out exactly how you’d like the trustee to manage the money for the child and even how the child can use the funds once they’ve reached adulthood. A qualified Estate Lawyer on our team can assist with this.
Insurance Claim Payments
Provided you fill out the forms properly and include a certified copy of the death certificate, insurance companies typically pay out life insurance claims fairly quickly. In fact, some claims are paid within one to two weeks of the start of the process, and rarely do claims take more than 60 days to be paid. Most insurance companies will offer you the option to collect the proceeds via a mailed check or transfer the funds electronically directly to your account.
We’re Here To Help
While collecting life insurance proceeds is often a simple process, don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have questions or need support in any way. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we are here to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible for you during what is likely to be an extremely trying time. Contact us today to learn more.
This article is a service of David M. Taylor Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office at 208-733-7200 today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session.