When it comes to life insurance, ASIC’s latest annual report says it paid out a total of $5,978,954 in principal and interest on unclaimed life insurance during the 2019/20 financial year. That’s up from $4,080,573 paid out in the previous 12 months.
It’s perhaps no surprise some life insurance policies can go unclaimed after a person dies. The person who took out the policy, and who may have had the policy documents, is rarely the person who ultimately makes a claim.
Details of any life insurance policies a person had are not always included in a will either, so beneficiaries of a deceased estate may not be aware they can make a claim.
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What is unclaimed life insurance?
Generally, when a person who is covered by life insurance dies, or in some cases becomes terminally ill, the policy reaches maturity. The nominated beneficiary, or another person who can prove eligibility, can then make a claim on the policy.
But according to ASIC, if the life insurance has not been claimed within seven years of it reaching maturity, the funds are declared ‘unclaimed’. If this happens, the insurance provider will pass the funds to ASIC which then transfers the money to the federal government’s Consolidated Revenue Fund.
Interest has been paid on the principal amount on most of the unclaimed money held since 2013.
Between 2012 and 2015 the timeframe for a life insurance benefit to become unclaimed was reduced from seven to three years, but was changed back to seven years starting from 31 December, 2015.
Why is some life insurance left unclaimed?
Life insurance may be left unclaimed for a number of reasons.
The beneficiary of the policy may not be aware there is a policy in place and therefore would not get in touch with the insurer following the death of a policy holder.
Superannuation can come with life insurance cover included by default, in some cases without the policyholder knowing they are covered. In these cases, the beneficiary might also be unaware they could make a claim.
If the beneficiary named on the policy has moved and the insurer hasn’t been informed of the new address, it can make it harder for insurers to track them down.
The beneficiaries named on the policy may also have died by the time the policy matures. That makes it more difficult for the insurer to locate the person or people that become eligible to make a claim on the policy.
One way to avoid any life insurance going unclaimed is to make sure you keep a record of any policies and beneficiaries. You should also make sure details are included in your will, including any life insurance as part of your superannuation.
An ASIC spokesperson told Canstar: “If you move, change your email, phone number or name, make sure you tell any organisations that you have financial arrangements with.”
How to find unclaimed life insurance
You can find out if you or someone else is entitled to any unclaimed life insurance benefits (and other types of unclaimed money) using Moneysmart’s unclaimed money search tool.
If you are searching for yourself obviously you’ll search on your own name. You might need to include any middle names to narrow down the search results. If searching for someone else, try variations if you’re not sure of their full name.
There may be several results that show up so you’ll need to check further details such as addresses etc.
ASIC says there is no time limit on enquiring about unclaimed money, and its search database goes as far back as 1952 for life insurance companies and 2000 for friendly societies.
Keep in mind that some companies may offer paid services to recover unclaimed money, but the Moneysmart search tool is free to use.
How to claim unclaimed life insurance
If the search result shows you may be entitled to unclaimed life insurance, you can apply to access the money by first approaching the relevant insurer with your request. It is the insurance company’s responsibility to assess who is the rightful beneficiary of the unclaimed funds.
If the claim is successful, the insurer will notify ASIC, which will then release the funds to the insurer so that they can be paid to you or any other eligible person.
According to Moneysmart, you can take the following steps in order to claim any unclaimed life insurance owed to you:
- Record your Original Transaction Number (OTN) which is shown when you find your name on an unclaimed money search. You need this number to make a claim.
- Confirm the insurance company details. A list of life insurance companies and friendly societies is available to help you identify the relevant insurance company and find out who to contact if the original company has changed its name or no longer exists.
- Contact the insurance company and speak to the unclaimed money officer to find out what proof of claim documents you may need in order to prove that you’re entitled to the policy benefit.
- The insurance company processes your claim, and if it’s approved, the funds are released by ASIC and paid to the rightful beneficiary.
How long will it take for your claim to be processed?
Exactly how long it will take to process your claim may vary depending on the circumstances. Typically, you would make the initial claim to the relevant insurer and the timeframe may depend on its particular processes.
Once a life insurance company asks ASIC to release unclaimed life insurance funds, ASIC says it generally takes up to 28 days until the money is sent back to the insurer for payment to the beneficiary.
Cover image source: fizkes/Shutterstock.com