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.

 

Who Inherits Your Digital Library?

Photo by Amit Agarwal

Quentin Fottrell reports in The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, on what happens to your digital library of books and music when you die.

Many of us will accumulate vast libraries of digital books and music over the course of our lifetimes. But when we die, our collections of words and music may expire with us.

Someone who owned 10,000 hardcover books and the same number of vinyl records could bequeath them to descendants, but legal experts say passing on iTunes and Kindle libraries would be much more complicated.

And one’s heirs stand to lose huge sums of money. “I find it hard to imagine a situation where a family would be OK with losing a collection of 10,000 books and songs,” says Evan Carroll, co-author of “Your Digital Afterlife.” “Legally dividing one account among several heirs would also be extremely difficult.”

Read the entire article.

The Lawyer Referral Service of the NH Bar Association can refer you to attorneys who can advise you on matters pertaining to wills and estates.  Call 603-229-0002 or request a referral online.

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.

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.

 

Administering an Estate in New Hampshire

As an executor or administrator of an estate, it is your responsibility, under the Probate Court’s supervision, to ensure that the debts and assets of the estate are managed and distributed in accordance with New Hampshire law and the decedent’s wishes if expressed in a will.

An executor is a person named by a decedent in a will to administer an estate (called a testate estate). An administrator is a person eligible under New Hampshire law, and who is approved by the Probate Court, to administer an estate when the decedent leaves no will (called an intestate estate) or when the executor(s) named in the will cannot serve. Whether you are an executor or an administrator (also referred to as a fiduciary), you must exercise the highest duty of good faith and candor in carrying out the administration of the decedent’s estate.

Your responsibility as executor or administrator is to perform certain tasks to see that the estate is properly probated. The assets of the decedent’s estate must be collected and its debts paid, if sufficient funds exist in the estate. The assets must be managed while awaiting approval to distribute them and estate funds must be kept separate from any other funds by opening an account in the name of the estate and depositing all estate funds and paying all estate bills from that account. The value of the estate’s assets must be determined by an appraiser named by you and appointed by the Probate Court. This valuation is extremely important because it establishes the tax basis for federal and state death taxes and for heirs or legatees who inherit the property. You must inform all persons with any legal interest in the estate, including creditors and potential heirs, of any matters that might affect their interests.

 While you do not need to be an attorney to serve as an executor or administrator, you should always consult an attorney when issues arise which you are not comfortable handling. If consulted for a proper purpose, attorneys’ fees are payable out of the estate. The Probate Court Register’s office, (similar to a Court Clerk’s office), may be of some assistance in giving general advice and providing necessary forms, but it is not allowed to give legal advice.

To download a complete copy of “Administering an Estate”, prepared by the Public Information committee of the NH Bar Association and the Probate Court Administrative Office, go to http://www.nhbar.org/uploads/pdf/admin_an_estate.pdf.

If you do not feel comfortable administering an estate on your own, the NH Lawyer Referral Service can refer you to an experienced attorney who handles estate administration.   Call the Lawyer Referral Service at 603-229-0002 or request an online referral at https://www.newhampshirelawyerreferral.com/contact-us.

LawLine: Free Legal Advice – 800-868-1212

Do you have a BRIEF LEGAL QUESTION? LawLine, the NH Bar Association’s free legal hotline is held on the second Wednesday of each month, from 6 – 8 pm.

Volunteer New Hampshire attorneys will take calls from the public and will give brief legal information and advice. This is a FREE public service. Call 1-800-868-1212.

Do you have more than a brief legal question and suspect you may need an attorney to represent you?  The NH Lawyer Referral Service can refer you to a competent local  attorney who handles your type of legal matter.  Call (603) 229-0002 today or fill out the Lawyer Referral Service request form at:  https://www.newhampshirelawyerreferral.com/contact-us.