Beneficiaries and Missing Life Insurance Policies

Last week the American International Group agreed to pay $11 million to resolve a multi-state investigation by a group of state insurance regulators, into the handling of death benefit payments to beneficiaries when the policy holder dies.

AIG joined several other insurers that already settled, agreeing to check their lists of policy holders regularly against the Social Security Administration’s master “death file” database and to put more effort into locating beneficiaries.

Traditionally, insurance companies have required beneficiaries to file claims to receive benefits from life insurance policies. That has meant that claims sometimes are never filed — perhaps because policy documents were lost, or because beneficiaries did not know a policy existed. But state insurance regulators, for the past two years, have been looking into the practices of large insurers and urging them to proactively identify policies that may be due for a payout.

State regulators have charged that insurers used the Social Security Administration’s list of recently deceased people to stop making annuity payments to dead customers, but, at the same time, did not use the list to check whether any life insurance policyholders had died.

Read entire story by Ann Carrns at the NY Times.

The American Council of Life Insurers has the following tips for finding missing policies.

Missing Policy Tips

The American Council of Life Insurers does not locate missing or lost life insurance policies.  Suggestions for conducting your own search are listed below.

Conducting Your Search

If you suspect your loved one had a policy, but cannot locate it, you may want to conduct your own search using the steps provided below. As an alternative, MIB, an insurance membership corporation, offers a policy locater service for a fee. For more information about this service, visit MIB’s Web site: www.policylocator.com.

  • Check your loved one’s papers and address and telephone books to look for life insurance policies and the names of insurance agents.  Contact every insurance company with which they may have had a policy, even if you’re not sure the policy is still in force.
  • Check with the employee benefits office at their latest and previous places of employment.  Or, check with the union welfare office.
  • Check bank books and canceled checks for the last few years to see if any checks may have been written to pay life insurance premiums.
  • Check the mail for one year after death for premium notices, which usually are sent annually.  If a policy has been paid up, there will not be any notice of premium payments due.  However, the company may still send an annual notice regarding the status of the policy or it may pay or send notice of a dividend.
  • Review your loved one’s income tax returns for the past two years.  Look for interest income from and interest expenses paid to life insurance companies.  Life insurance companies pay interest on accumulations on permanent policies and charge interest on policy loans.
  • Check with the state’s unclaimed property office to see if any unclaimed money from life insurance policies may have been turned over to the state.  If, after a number of years, an insurance company holding the unclaimed money cannot find the rightful owner, it turns the money over to the state. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators’ website (www.naupa.org) includes links to each state’s unclaimed property office. For multi-state searches, www.missingmoney.com combines information from most, but not all, state unclaimed property databases.
  • Of course, you may wish to contact life insurance companies directly to see if a policy exists.  Each state insurance department has a listing of life insurance companies licensed to do business in its state.

Contacting the Company That Services Your Life Insurance Policy

If you are the owner or beneficiary of a life insurance policy written long ago, you may need help locating the life insurer that services and pays claims on the policy.

Over the years, a policy owner may lose touch with the life insurer due to frequent moves, or the company that issued the policy may have changed its name or merged with another company.

Two sources of information can assist you in finding the life insurance company that currently services your policy:

  • The state insurance department of the state in which the insured person resided at the time he or she bought the insurance policy.
  • Best’s Insurance Reports, available in the reference section of many larger libraries. This annual update lists insurance company names and addresses, as well as insurers’ name changes, mergers and other changes.

The best way to avoid problems with life insurance claims is for policy holders to discuss the policies with their beneficiaries.  Copies of the policy should be kept in a safe deposit box or with a lawyer or financial adviser, and make sure your beneficiaries know how to access them.

The Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can refer you to an attorney to assist you with your estate planning needs.  Call 603-229-0002 or request a referral online.

 

Insurance Advice – Storm Loss Information

New Hampshire Insurance Department

For Immediate Release:

October 29, 2012 – Concord, NH

Hurricane Sandy is expected to make landfall today in New Jersey and the resulting storm’s main impact is expected to reach New Hampshire around mid-afternoon on Monday.  We are anticipating high winds and heavy rain, leading to the potential for water in the roadways, flying debris and downed power lines.   At these times, it is critical to be prepared with the information your insurance adjuster will need to quickly process your claim if you suffer an insured loss.

NH Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny said “We stand ready to assist New Hampshire residents affected by storm damage from this storm with information, assistance and referral services. We hope the public will think of us when looking for information on what to do after suffering a property loss. We will do whatever we can to help find the right resources and information to assist New Hampshire residents to recover from this natural disaster.”

The New Hampshire Insurance Department offers these tips:

Making Repairs

  •  Make the repairs necessary to prevent further damage to your property (cover broken windows, leaking roofs and damaged walls). 
  •  Don’t have permanent repairs made until your insurance company has inspected the property and you have reached an agreement on the cost of repairs. An insurance company might deny a claim if you make permanent repairs before the damage is inspected. 
  •  Separate damaged and undamaged articles and do not throw away damaged property until an insurance adjuster has seen it, unless authorities require you to dispose of it.
  • Take photographs of damaged property, especially those things you must dispose of, like spoiled food or wet carpeting.
  • Get more than one bid for your repairs. Ask for at least three references. Check with the Better Business Bureau or the Attorney General’s Office about the contractor. Ask for proof of necessary licenses, building permits, insurance, and bonding. Record the license plate number and driver’s license number of the contractor.
  • Be wary of contractors who demand up-front payment before work is initiated or payment in full before work is completed. If the contractor needs payment to buy supplies, consider going with the contractor and paying the supplier directly.
  • Save all receipts, including those from the temporary repairs covered by your insurance policy.  Be prepared to provide the claims adjuster with records of any improvements you made prior to the damage.

Know Your Policy

Understand what your policy says. The policy is a contract between you and your insurance company. Know what’s covered, what’s excluded and what the deductibles are.

Check all policies for opportunities for reimbursement, like loss of food due to spoilage due to electrical outages, falling tree damage and similar losses that could be covered by auto, homeowner or other policies.

File Claims as Soon as Possible

Don’t let the bills or receipts pile up. Call your agent or your company’s claims hotline as soon as possible. Your policy might require that you make the notification within a certain time frame.

Provide Complete, Correct Information

Be certain to give your insurance company all the information they need. Incorrect or incomplete information will only cause a delay in processing your claim.

Keep Copies of all Correspondence

Whenever you communicate with your insurance company, be sure to keep copies and records of all correspondence. Write down information about your telephone and in-person contacts, including the date, name and title of the person you spoke with and what was said. Also, keep a record of your time and expenses.

Ask Questions

If there is a disagreement about the claim settlement, ask the company for the specific language in the policy that is in question. Find out if the disagreement is because you and the insurance company interpret your policy differently. If this disagreement results in a claim denial, make sure you obtain a written letter explaining the reason for the denial and the specific policy language under which the claim is being denied.

Don’t Rush Into a Settlement

Ask the adjuster for an itemized explanation of the claim settlement offer. If the first offer made by an insurance company does not meet your expectations, be prepared to negotiate to get a fair settlement. If you have any questions regarding the fairness of your settlement, seek professional advice.

Contact the New Hampshire Insurance Department

If you have a dispute with your insurer about the amount or terms of the claim settlement, contact the New Hampshire Insurance Department for assistance using this toll free number: 1-800-852-3416 For more information, go to the New Hampshire Insurance Department web site at www.nh.gov/insurance.

Before the Storm

It’s never too late to get prepared. A home inventory can help make the claims process easier following a storm. For an inventory checklist and other disaster preparedness tips, visit the NH Insurance Department web site www.nh.gov/insurance.

Photo by US Fish & Game Wildlife Services - Northeast Region

Photo by US Fish & Game Wildlife Services – Northeast Region

If your claim is denied, and you are unable to resolve the issue through the NH Banking Department, the Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association may be able to help with a referral to a competent and insured attorney who specifically handles insurance claim matters.  Call 603-229-0002 or request a referral online.

Veterans and the ADA: A Guide for Employers

Each year, thousands of military personnel stationed around the world leave active duty and return to jobs they held before entering the service, or begin the search for new jobs. Recent veterans report high rates of service-connected disabilities (i.e., disabilities that were incurred in, or aggravated during, military service).[1] About twenty-five percent of recent veterans report having a service-connected disability, as compared to about thirteen percent of all veterans.[2] Common injuries incurred by these veterans include missing limbs, burns, spinal cord injuries, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), hearing loss, traumatic brain injuries, and other impairments.

There are several federal laws that provide important protections for veterans with disabilities who are looking for jobs or are already in the workplace. Two of those laws — Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) – protect veterans from employment discrimination. Title I of the ADA, which is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), prohibits private and state and local government employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against individuals on the basis of disability.[3] USERRA has requirements for reemploying veterans with and without service-connected disabilities and is enforced by the U. S. Department of Labor (DOL).

This guide describes how the ADA applies to recruiting, hiring, and accommodating veterans with disabilities, and briefly explains how protections for veterans with disabilities differ under USERRA and the ADA. The guide also provides information on laws and regulations that employers may find helpful if they want to make recruiting and hiring veterans with disabilities a priority.

Read the entire guide from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Are you a veteran who feels your employer is not complying with the ADA?  The Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can help with a referral to a competent  attorney experienced with handling ADA issues in employment law.  Call 603-229-0002 or request an online referral.

Is Your Dog a Blacklisted Breed?

A pet owner is responsible for his/her dog’s behavior, regardless of whether or not the animal was provoked.  That’s usually where home owner’s or renter’s insurance comes in to play.  These policies typically cover the liability of the pet owner in the event of a dog bite or attack on the owner’s premises.

These standard policies cover most dogs. However, your pooch’s breed may be blacklisted by some home insurers. Many insurers classify Akitas, Alaskan Malamutes, Presa Canarios, Chow Chows, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Pit Bull Terriers, Rottweilers and Siberian Huskies as potentially dangerous.

Each year, almost 5 million Americans are bitten or attacked by dogs. According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites accounted for more than one-third of all homeowner’s insurance liability claims paid in 2010, totaling $412 million; the average claim was $26,166. Dog bites are the No. 5 reason for visits to the emergency room, and more than half of these bites occur on the dog owner’s property.

Given those statistics, it should come as no surprise that homeowner’s and renter’s insurance companies are as vigilant about dog bite claims as a watchdog that’s guarding a house.

To find out what you can do if your dog doesn’t qualify under your home owner’s or renter’s insurance, read the rest of the story by Michele C. Hollow at insurancequotes.com.

If your pet is accused of biting or attacking someone, the Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can help with a referral to an attorney experienced with dog bite defense cases.  Call 603-229-0002 or request an online referral.

 

 

 

New Guidance on Using Criminal Background Checks

In a press release dated April 25, 2012, the EEOC Commission issued enforcement guidance on employer use of arrest and conviction records.

PRESS RELEASE
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today issued an updated Enforcement Guidance on employer use of arrest and conviction records in employment decisions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (Title VII). The Commission today voted 4-1 to approve the guidance document.  The Commission also issued a Question-and-Answer (Q&A) document about the guidance. The Enforcement Guidance and Q&A document will be available on the EEOC’s website at www.eeoc.gov.

“When the Commission met publicly to discuss this subject in July, 2011, I said that I hoped the meeting would help to inform the Commission’s consideration of revisions to existing EEOC guidance.  We had excellent testimony from two public meetings and hundreds of written comments submitted by a diverse group of commenters to inform our deliberations concerning the new guidance,” said EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien.  Chair Berrien added, “The new guidance clarifies and updates the EEOC’s longstanding policy concerning the use of arrest and conviction records in employment, which will assist job seekers, employees, employers, and many other agency stakeholders.”

While Title VII does not prohibit an employer from requiring applicants or employees to provide information about arrests, convictions or incarceration, it is unlawful to discriminate in employment based on race, color, national origin, religion, or sex.  The guidance builds on longstanding guidance documents that the EEOC issued over twenty years ago.  The Commission originally issued three separate policy documents in February and July 1987 under Chair Clarence Thomas and in September 1990 under Chair Evan Kemp explaining when the use of arrest and conviction records in employment decisions may violate Title VII.  The Commission also held public meetings on the subject in 2008 and 2011.  The Enforcement Guidance issued today is predicated on, and supported by, federal court precedent concerning the application of Title VII to employers’ consideration of a job applicant or employee’s criminal history and incorporates judicial decisions issued since passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991.  The guidance also updates relevant data, consolidates previous EEOC policy statements on this issue into a single document and illustrates how Title VII applies to various scenarios that an employer might encounter when considering the arrest or conviction history of a current or prospective employee.  Among other topics, the guidance discusses:

  • How an employer’s use of an individual’s criminal history in making employment decisions could violate the prohibition against employment discrimination under Title VII;
  • Federal court decisions analyzing Title VII as applied to criminal record exclusions;
  • The differences between the treatment of arrest records and conviction records;
  • The applicability of disparate treatment and disparate impact analysis under Title VII;
  • Compliance with other federal laws and/or regulations that restrict and/or prohibit the employment of individuals with certain criminal records; and
  • Best practices for employers.

The materials for the public meetings held on the use of arrest and conviction records, including testimony and transcripts, are available at http://eeoc.gov/eeoc/meetings/index.cfm.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.  Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.

The Lawyer Referral Service of the NH Bar Association can refer you to qualified and experienced attorneys to assist you with your employment law issues.  Call 603-229-0002 or request a confidential online referral.

 

Does Your Business Own Its Social Media Accounts?

When an employee creates and maintains a social media account on behalf of his/her employer, what happens to the account(s) when the employee is terminated or resigns?

The world is closely watching a federal case in the Northern District of California where a mobile news and reviews resource company, Phonedog, is suing a former employee Noah Kravitz (or independent contractor, depending on what news report you read) over who owns a Twitter account that was started in association with PhoneDog, and is now being used by Kravitz as his own Twitter account. The issues drawing so much attention include who owns a social media account – the employee who posts on it, or the employer on whose behalf the employee was posting. The other issue is what value, if any, can be placed on Twitter followers (or, by analogy Facebook likes), when social media attracts people who are portable and not “owned” by the social media account.

The crux of the lawsuit is that Kravitz was paid as a product reviewer and video blogger for PhoneDog from April 2006 through October 2010, and that this position included posting tweets on a Twitter account called @PhoneDog_Noah. After Kravitz left PhoneDog, he changed the name of the account to @noahkravitz, and kept its followers instead of relinquishing the account and its followers over to PhoneDog as was requested of him.

Michelle Sherman, Esq.  at JDSupra.com gives the following advice to employers:

In general, companies should to the greatest extent possible register social media accounts in their own names or through a senior marketing person and/or social media manager if the account needs to be in the name of a person. Further, on social media accounts such as Facebook pages, where you can have more than one administrator, companies should take advantage of this option and have several administrators. Having several administrators, and asserting control over the account, is another way to demonstrate “ownership” of the account, and also avoid some of the problems experienced by PhoneDog.

Read the full article by Michelle Sherman, Esq.

If you are an employer with questions about issues regarding your employees, past and present, the Lawyer Referral Service of the NH Bar Association can refer you to competent, licensed and insured attorneys who specifically represent employers. Call 603-229-0002 or request an online referral.

Are Your Digital Assets Covered in Your Will?

Sharon D. Nelson, Esq., President of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a computer forensics and legal technology firm in Fairfax, Virginia, recently wrote in her blog about what can happen to online accounts  after a person dies.

Ms. Nelson relayed a story told by an attorney friend, about a client whose husband passed away without leaving behind the password to their bank account.  He had gone paperless and paid all bills online, and the bank refused to give her his password.  Without the password, the client had no way of knowing when bills were due, and quickly became delinquent on all accounts.

Collaborating with her own attorney on research, Ms. Nelson came up with language for wills and Powers of Attorney that include digital assets.  She shares them on her blog, inviting readers to pass along to anyone who might be interested.

POWERS OF ATTORNEY

To give the Agent power over digital assets:

“Digital Assets. My Agent shall have (i) the power to access, use, and control my digital devices, including but not limited to, desktops, laptops, tablets, peripherals, storage devices, mobile telephones, smartphones, and any similar digital device which currently exists or may exist as technology develops for the purpose of accessing, modifying, deleting, controlling, or transferring my digital assets, and (ii) the power to access, modify, delete, control, and transfer my digital assets, including but not limited to, my emails received, email accounts, digital music, digital photographs, digital videos, software licenses, social network accounts, file sharing accounts, financial accounts, banking accounts, domain registrations, DNS service accounts, web hosting accounts, tax preparation service accounts, online stores, affiliate programs, other online accounts, and similar digital items which currently exist or may exist as technology develops, and (iii) the power to obtain, access, modify, delete, and control my passwords and other electronic credentials associated with my digital devices and digital assets described above.”

For greater emphasis to banks, include in the provision giving the Agent powers regarding financial accounts:

“….and to access, modify, delete, control, and transfer my digital financial accounts.”

Read entire blog post.

Do you have an up-to-date will and advanced directives?  The key is to create them BEFORE they are needed – BEFORE it’s too late!  The Lawyer Referral Service of the NH Bar Association can refer you to a competent attorney who is experienced with estate planning.  Call LRS today at 603-229-0002 or request an online referral.

Can I Be Fired While On Maternity Leave in NH?

According to the NH Commission for Human Rights, you cannot be fired or laid off while on maternity leave if it’s related to your temporary disability; however, you may be fired or laid off from a general and legitimate lay-off for performance requirements.

What else does the Commission say about the rights of pregnant employees?

1. Is a pregnant woman entitled to maternity leave?

Yes, an employer must grant a female employee leave for the period of time she is physically disabled due to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.

2. Is there a set period of time for maternity leave?

No, there is no set period of time for maternity leave. It is based on the period she is disabled as determined by a physician, usually the employee’s personal doctor.

3. Is the employee entitled to full pay while on maternity leave?

The general rule is that pregnancy must be treated in the same manner that the employer treats other temporary physical disabilities. Therefore, if the employer continues to pay other temporarily disabled employees, it must pay pregnant women. If the employer requires use of vacation and/or sick leave for temporary disabilities, then it may require the same for pregnancy.

4. Is the employee entitled to her job back after she recovers from childbirth?

When the employee is physically able to return to work, her original job or a comparable position must be made available to her by the employer unless business necessity makes this impossible or unreasonable.

5. If the position is filled by another employee while the original employee is on maternity leave and the employer prefers the temporary replacement, can the employer refuse to provide the original job for the returning employee?

No, any change in position for the returning employee must be made for reasons of business necessity. An employer’s preference for one employee over the other cannot be a factor in this decision.

6. Can an employee be laid off or fired while pregnant or on maternity leave?

No, an employee cannot be laid off or fired while pregnant or on leave for reasons related to her temporary disability. However, an employee while pregnant or on maternity leave is not immune from a general and legitimate lay off of employees for performance requirements.

To find out more about rights for pregnant employees, go to the NH Commission for Human Rights.

If you believe you have been discriminated against by your employer because of your age, sex, sexual orientation, race,  physical or mental disability,  religion or pregnancy status, contact the Lawyer Referral Service.  LRS can refer you to competent attorneys who specifically handle discrimination matters in New Hampshire.  Call 603-229-0002 or request an online referral.

2010 NH Workplace Deaths Lowest in the US

As reported by Kathleen Callahan, in the NH Business Review, December 16th, 2011: 

“New Hampshire had the fewest number of workplace deaths in the country in 2010, according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.”

“Five people — all men — died on the job in New Hampshire last year, which was the fewest number of workplace fatalities in the Granite State since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began tabulating them in 1992.”

“That’s one fewer than the six who died on the job the previous year, and is down significantly from the 23 recorded in both 1997 and 1998 — the state’s highest years on record since 1992.”

To read the entire article, go to http://www.nhbr.com/businessnewsstatenews/943442-257/n.h.-workplace-deaths-lowest-in-u.s.-in.html

If you have been injured on the job, you may be entitled to Workers’ Compensation.  LRS can refer you to competent attorneys who specifically handle Workers’ Compensation matters.  Call LRS today at (603) 229-0002 or request an online referral.

 

New Hampshire Advance Directives

Making decisions about medical care is not always easy – especially now that machines can keep patients alive even when there is no hope for recovery. It’s your right to participate and plan for your care.  But at some point, you may become unable to make your own health care decisions. That’s why it’s important to think and talk about your feelings and beliefs with your loved ones – long before critical medical decisions must be made.

 This guide provides you with information about creating an “advance directive” – a legal document that states your preferences about medical care. Please read it carefully and discuss it with your family, doctor, nurse practitioner, patient representative, chaplain or other caregiver.

To download the complete guide go to:  http://www.healthynh.com/fhc/initiatives/performance/eol/2010%20ACPG.pdf

Reprinted by permission from the Foundation for Healthy Communities copyright © 2010. All rights reserved.

While you may not need an attorney to create basic advance directives, you may want an attorney to assist you with more complicated forms of estate planning such as wills and trusts.   Contact the Lawyer Referral Service at 603-229-0002 or complete the online referral request form at https://www.newhampshirelawyerreferral.com/contact-us for a referral to a competent attorney who handles estate planning matters in your area.